The reconvening of the Legislative Assembly this week has been welcomed by the Official Opposition, particularly for the changes to be made to the Pensions Law.
The Government has announced that an interim waiver of pension contributions has been approved by Cabinet along with allowing early withdrawals to offset the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
Although Cabinet has approved these decisions they still require ratification by the Assembly.
In a joint statement at the weekend, the Official Opposition expressed its support saying: “These changes will allow individuals and businesses to benefit from a ‘Pension Holiday’, increasing disposable incomes at a time when essentials are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.
“The changes will also allow persons employed in the private sector to withdraw funds from their pensions, providing them with much needed financial relief during this period of reduced economic activity,” it added.
The Hon. Leader of the Opposition, Mr. V. Arden McLean, JP, MLA, reflected on statements he’d made at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when he had suggested that “this unprecedented time also gives us an opportunity to re-write several policies that were unfair and frankly did nothing to address the hardship being faced by our people.”
He said he had written to Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin on the matter.
“Our goal is to ensure that Cayman not only weathers this crisis, but, emerges stronger as well. Thus, when I wrote to the Hon. Premier last month outlining some additional relief initiatives which the Official Opposition wanted the Government to consider, we were hopeful that pragmatism rather than dogmatic politically ideology would prevail.”
Mr McLean said “allowing our citizens to play a part in our recovery is therefore not only sensible, but the right thing to do.”
On the issue of accessing pension pots given the present unusual circumstances, he noted: “As a society, we encourage people to save for their rainy days albeit thinking it would be in their old age. However, this global pandemic means that for many people, their livelihood and standard of living is under threat now and without the assistance and ability to hold on to their standard of living, many may not make it to their old age."
The pensions payments holiday also finds favour with Hon. Deputy Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo, (MLA, Newlands).
“Allowing a Pension Holiday is the first step in the right direction, and I am grateful that the Government will be making the necessary changes to facilitate this. Our people need help now and while we all appreciate the need to save for our golden years, the current circumstances cannot justify continuing with a forced savings, especially with so many in need.”
Hon. Chris Saunders, (MLA, Bodden Town West) also supports the move.
He said, "I believe that this is a step in the right direction and has the potential to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in our local economy. We have all seen the struggles that many countries are going through and why should we leave our money in foreign countries when it is needed at home here in the Cayman Islands.
"We do not know how long this global crisis is going to last, so it is imperative that people have access to their cash and not be dependent on the Government or some charitable organization.”
Mr Saunders would also like to see the government “use this opportunity to make additional changes to the pension law to encourage more local investments as well as deal with the issue of dormant pension accounts.”
Commenting on the development, Hon. Bernie Bush, (MLA, West Bay North) applauded businesses which have kept their employees on the payroll.
“Many small business owners who reached out to us, expressing the need to access their pension funds to meet their current payroll needs will be relieved. We are grateful that we have so many conscientious business owners who recognize the importance of retaining valuable employees even at their own personal sacrifice."
Mr Bush also said "this type of collaborative thinking presents a win-win situation and a step in the right direction for building a better and stronger Cayman."
For his part Hon. Anthony Eden, (MLA, Savannah) called on pension providers to work with the government on the interim changes being put forward for the pension scheme:
“In these troubling times, these measures will help our hard-working people to maintain their dignity and compassion during these troubling times. I am hopeful that the Pension providers will work with the Government to affect these changes to pension contributions which will ease the hardship of many of our people.
“In my 70 plus years I have seen the Cayman Islands weather many a storm and I have no doubt that this too shall pass away, and that our people and our country will once again emerge from this period of doubt and uncertainty, this pension withdrawal will certainly assist.”
The joint and individual statements of support from members of the Official Opposition suggests that the pension amendments approved by Cabinet will get overwhelming endorsement when the Assembly meets on the matter this Thursday.
Prior to that, the LA will meet on Wednesday for the first time since the COVID-19 crisis was declared here.
Wednesday’s meeting will principally clear the legislative hurdles to allow for the historic virtual internet meetings of the Assembly.
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