By Lindsey Turnbull
People will soon be able to access their pensions for funds to either pay off their mortgage in full or obtain more funds than previously allowed to put down a deposit on a home. While the motion to make this happen was agreed in Parliament in June, the law has still not been amended to make that happen. This will be changing soon, according to Dwayne Seymour, Border Control and labour Minister, who was speaking to Orrett Connor on Radio Cayman’s For the Record show.
The June Motion saw a request for people contributing to pensions covered under the National Pensions Act to be allowed to withdraw up to CI$50,000 to apply to their mortgage (double for couples. The motion also allows each participant to withdraw up to CI$100,000 to pay off their mortgage in full. (Doubled for couples.) In addition, the amount that could be withdrawn to assist with a deposit was also intended to increase from CI$35,000 to CI$50,000.
Minister Seymour said these things took time and he had only been in the post four months but he was trying his best to get it done.
“It’s actually gone through Caucus and Cabinet now and I’ve worked very hard to get it to that place. I know people are in high anticipation for this and I’ve asked for a waiver on the amount of time it takes to submit this to Parliament for it to be brought at this session,” he said.
The Minister said if it was not brought before Parliament in this month’s session then he suggested that it could be in October and he hoped it wouldn’t have to wait until the November session which he said was a “very big and confusing session”.
“I would hate for it to lose its muster in all the budget debates,” he said.
It was not through any lack of support in his part that the decision had not progressed.
“Obviously I have to state we cannot make moves like this unless we are cognisant of the effects in the future. What’s happening in this country now is not really thinking about tomorrow. People need to live today, with the cost of living and everything,” he stated, adding he felt it was a “drastic and sensitive” move.
“I keep reminding people that two years of Covid is no joke. It really hurt the economy. People are in a time that they’ve never seen before and I think we keep forgetting that. Yes, we need to use our pensions now,” Minister Seymour said.
That said, Minister Seymour felt some kind of retirement fund ought to be established as there would be problems in the future in terms of having enough funds to live off in retirement.
The reality was that people ought not to rely solely on their pension and that ought to have other savings or investments to help them live in retirement, he said.
“The cost of living the way its going, the banking fees, the mortgage increasing almost every three months… for persons who don’t have the burden of a mortgage, that can really help.”
When asked about what the pension advisors and administrators have felt about the move, he said:
“I’ve heard that they have serious concerns about the funds. I haven’t had a personal conversation with them. I know they have been trying to meet with the Ministry, but because of our Budget discussions we haven’t been able to meet with them. I can only imagine that there are serious concerns there,” he acknowledged.
What really troubled him was that when a person retires, no matter how much they have put in their plan they can only get about $1,000 a month.
“That is not enough to sustain a person who is used to living a different quality of life and I must remind the politicians, even they will still only be receiving $1,000 a month. That’s not enough… It’s very scary. We sacrifice our life to serve country. When we are out of office no one wants to hire us so that is very concerning and we must look into it and we need to protect all citizens. We need to be more respectful towards politicians. Not every politician is corrupt,” he stated.
Breaking the work permit/residency link
On the question of growth, Minister Seymour said however Cayman grew it needed to work for Caymanians.
“If it’s not working for Caymanians then we need to pause it or slow it down,” he said.
The Minister said some of the initiatives in the works would “definitely make a difference, especially when it comes to PR and status”.
“It’s too easy to get status once you’re married. Three years is definitely not long enough. It’s definitely my determination to make a difference and there are many other areas where there are low hanging fruits where we can protect Caymanians,” he confirmed.
He acknowledged there was always a lot of “chatter” about work permits.
“I always say though that no-one comes to Cayman unless a Caymanian requested a work permit so we have this taste for work permits. Everyone needs one and after that nobody else should get one! Only me!” he said.
Mr Seymour said the Cayman Islands was not ready infrastructure-wise for a population of 100,000 and went on to say that residency and work permits ought never to be linked.
“We need to change that. It will be my determination… No-one should do that. You came here for a work opportunity and we welcome you… so it’s not about that… but we need to make it very clear from the time the person gets the first work permit this is not a right to status. I think we need to pause a bit,” he said. “The people of the Cayman Islands need a pause to try and see where they fit in, in their own country.”
Minister Seymour said that during July, 5,274 work permits were considered. Applications for PR under the 8 years application process numbered 75 processed in August and there were 280 in the pipeline. Year-to-date they had received 292 PR applications, and the pending number continued to fall from 361 in June to 280 in August, even with increasing numbers of applicants.