By Lindsey Turnbull
At the recent Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce’s AGM, Premier Alden Mclaughlin outlined how, over the past eight years, his Government had brought the Islands up from a state where the economy was “on its knees” since a faltering recovery after the 2009 global economic crash, all the way to the strong and prosperous heights of early 2020.
“In my view, our biggest achievement was to bring stable and effective government back to these islands,” he stated.
Government finances were brought back to where they needed to be, government spending was under control, while fees were not increased and some were even reduced. Investment took place in projects that would strengthen national infrastructure using existing revenue streams.
“Cayman has gone to being a case study in effective financial management and good governance,” he said. “Business confidence was restored and investment started to flow again.”
As a result, at the end of 2019, Cayman’s economy was the envy of the region, growth averaged over three per cent over the past five years, Caymanian unemployment was below five per cent and jobs were continuing to grow for Caymanians. Tourism and development were also going great guns.
“That is a track record of success that I am proud of, that my Government is proud of, that all of Cayman can be proud of,” the Premier confirmed.
While the Government had hoped for the best, hope alone was not going to beat a pandemic and so the Government began making plans as to how it would deal with a possible pandemic as early as January 2020. Even though he was pleased that the business community felt that the Government had struck the right balance of shutting down borders to protect the health of the population, the Premier acknowledged their real concerns of the effect such a shutdown was having on business.
But, constantly opening up and then shutting down again had a detrimental effect on economies (as with the UK) which would offset any financial gains made while the economy was open, the Premier confirmed.
“The impact on people’s health would be nothing short of catastrophic,” he said.
The result has been that Cayman residents have been able to enjoy an almost normal life when compared to the rest of the world.
Government has been instrumental in helping those businesses and families most impacted by the crisis, providing assistance for displaced tourism workers with further assistance coming soon. Those needing to isolate have been provide with safe accommodation and laptops have been provided for students having to study remotely. A grant scheme has been providing direct financial assistance for businesses in need. A Government-backed loan scheme has also been developed for local businesses in conjunction with local banks.
Inherent risks with opening up too soon meant that Cayman’s borders would not be opening up as hoped at the end of March, and not until the elderly and vulnerable had been vaccinated.
The Premier said he was still confident as far as Cayman’s economy, looking ahead. The financial services industry was in good health, despite facing challenges, and investment in Cayman was booming, as highlighted by the announcement late last year of a $350 million hospital to be built called Aster Cayman Medcity. Health City Cayman Islands would also be making a major announcement soon, the Premier confirmed.
Commitments had been delivered upon when it came to strengthening the delivery of education, safeguarding the environment, dealing with the landfill site, enhancing Cayman’s border controls, supporting the RCIPS and Cayman Fire Service and creating the Cayman Islands Regiment and mental health facility. Road networks had been enhanced, affordable homes built, the airport expanded, veterans were better supported, and key legislation had been passed.
“We have ably demonstrated the strong leadership necessary to steer the country in good times and in bad. But effective political leadership also means being willing to work with others. The strength and stability of the Unity Government reflects the willingness of each of us involved to always put the country’s interests first,” the Premier said, stating that every member of Cabinet had stepped up during the pandemic to ensure effective leadership through the crisis.
The Premier picked out the Financial Services Minister, Roy McTaggart, for particular praise, stating that his financial stewardship had been integral to the achievements of Government.
“As we look to the future, that certainty of strong and effective leadership remains essential if Cayman is to emerge successfully from this crisis and restore prosperity to all of our people… I can think of no one better suited to the task that lies ahead for the next Premier than your former President [of the Chamber of Commerce], Roy McTaggart,” Premier McLaughlin stated.
Mr McTaggart had created a resilience that had allowed the Cayman Islands to cope with the crisis and injected business discipline into public service. The Premier said he was confident Mr McTaggart would be chosen to lead the party at the Progressive Party’s upcoming conference.