Statement by Premier, Hon. Alden McLaughlin, MBE, JP, MLA
14th October, 2020
Opening of the Legislative Assembly
Solar energy is not the only renewable energy source that we can utilise. The Integrated Solid Waste Management Project that is being progressed by the government will generate electricity from incoming solid waste and landfill gases from the George Town landfill site once it has been capped and remediated. The primary purpose of the project is, of course, to achieve the closure of the existing landfill through alternative means of waste disposal but in achieving that, the government is moving to an approach that utilises waste as a resource rather than simply as garbage to be disposed of.
I am delighted with the progress the contract negotiations are finally making. I must thank the Minister for Health and the Environment for his fortitude and perseverance in keeping the project moving forward. As we announced yesterday, early works contracts have been signed that will complete the capping of the existing area of completed landfill over the next year and which will start the planning and environmental impact assessment work for the new plant. These are signature achievements of this Government.
The capping and remediation of the George Town landfill will also virtually eliminate fire risks and minimise the environmental impact of the site.
Other important environmental programmes being delivered thanks to this Government include the massive extension to marine parks; new public parks and open spaces; and the designation of new protected conservation areas.
Regrettably, these achievements got talked down during the public debate over the proposed cruise dock. I do not mean that just from a political standpoint. It is also regrettable that the hard work of many civil servants, community groups, charitable organisations and individual members of the public who, for example, put their own time into helping bring open space into public use, got lost in that debate. I hope that the whole of Cayman will now be ready to acknowledge that work and that effort as I do.
I want to emphasise too, Mr. Speaker, that this is a Government that will do all it can to support vulnerable Caymanians and those in need in our community.
During the recent crisis, we have acted to provide additional support. The vital measures that we have put in place included a one-off payment of $425 to the disabled, seafarers and veterans, and other persons in need who get financial assistance from Government. Also, a one-off stipend of $600 was provided to taxi drivers and Caymanian tourism workers and in subsequent months all unemployed tourism-related workers received $1,000 per month. Over 200 musicians and artists also received support totalling CI$226,000.
Assistance with health insurance costs from April through June totalling over $419,000 was also provided to workers who had been furloughed – covering over 1,200 individuals, employees and dependents. We also assisted individuals in the community with masks at a cost of over CI$131,000.
With food security in mind one million dollars was provided to farmers to help buy feed and supplies.
No one should be surprised, Mr. Speaker, by the extent of the help we have offered to our people. The Government made it clear from the outset that we would stand up for the vulnerable and the needy.
One of the first promises we kept was our commitment to raising the minimum income of our veterans and seafarers and those in need of welfare support. In our first budget, we raised that minimum income figure from $550 per month to $750 per month. We also extended that benefit to long-standing civil service pensioners in recognition not just of their need for help but as a reward for their valuable service to this country.
And we did not stop there, Mr. Speaker. In our budget presented to the House last year, we further increased the minimum income guarantee to $850 per month effective January this year and with a further increase to $950 per month in January 2021. As a result, by the time this term is over, the income of over 2,000 Caymanians most in need in our community will have increased by approximately 73%.
This is a Government, Mr. Speaker that looks after Caymanians and their families.
It is also a Government that looks after the national finances. We set out an ambitious delivery programme for our term in office but we also committed that we would achieve the objectives we had set while living within our means.
In particular, we promised that we would deliver year-on-year surpluses; we would impose no new fees or duties on our people; and we would pay down Cayman’s debt, financing our investment priorities from operating surpluses.
It is a source of regret that the events of recent months will break our strong record of sticking with those promises. The reduction in economic activity is impacting government revenues while we have had to increase our spending to make the vital interventions to support businesses and families across these Islands. Clearly, we will not deliver a surplus in this our final year in office.
Yet despite that, remarkably, we will finish our term without needing to raise new fees or duties and, we hope, without needing to resort to borrowing. Very simply, that is because of the extremely strong position that our public finances were in as we entered this year. We have enough cash in the bank, we expect, to get us through the current difficulties.
Mr. Speaker as at 30 September this year, the Cayman Islands Treasury held roughly CI$500 million in cash and deposits, representing operating cash and reserves and restricted cash.
I must remind the House and the country, Mr. Speaker that the cash we hold is only there because we achieved the financial strategy we committed ourselves to. It is the direct result of seven years of successful financial management by this government and the previous administration.
We have also secured a US$403 million line of credit, which is before this House for approval in this meeting from a consortium of local banks should it be necessary. That is the prudent thing to do so that we can access favourable terms now and do not go to the market in a weak position at the point of necessity. However, as I explained when we announced that this arrangement had been secured, it is an insurance policy should we need it. In any case, on current projections there should be no need to access the credit available before the latter part of next year, if at all. But I would add, Mr. Speaker, that the willingness of the market to offer credit on very favourable terms is yet another demonstration of confidence in this Government and the country as a whole.
Contrast this position, Mr. Speaker, with that elsewhere in the world. As we sit here today, Cayman has taken its income reduction on the chin. We have provided considerable support for families and business. And our national debt has increased by……. zero. Not one dollar has been borrowed. To take two other examples. In the same circumstances, national debt in the United Kingdom has increased by around £250 billion since this time last year and now exceeds £2 trillion, larger than the size of the UK economy. Meanwhile, in America, the Government has borrowed an eye-watering $3 trillion since 1st March.
Cayman’s position has not come about by accident. I repeat, Mr. Speaker, it is the direct result of this Government’s fiscal strategy. I must, in particular, pay tribute to the Minister of Finance. The country has been fortunate indeed to have a figure of his stature and experience at the helm at this time. His stewardship of the public purse has been notwithstanding remarkable.
Another accomplishment of the Minister is the arrangement between the Government and five local banks to a government-guaranteed loan scheme that will provide up to CI$200 million to assist medium and large-sized businesses that are at least 60% Caymanian owned, with meeting their operating and capital expenditure and refinancing their debt. Under the scheme, banks will consider applications for loans from eligible medium and large-sized businesses where each medium and large-sized business can borrow up to CI$750,000 and CI$3,000,000, respectively. Decisions will be made solely by the banks and must satisfy all their usual credit approval and other requirements. The Government will guarantee 50%, or a total not to exceed CI$100 million, of the loans granted as an additional incentive to have banks loan money to our struggling businesses.
This House will also consider and vote on this scheme during this meeting.
I promised earlier, Mr. Speaker, that I hoped not to disappoint those expecting to hear about the Government’s achievements. But time is running short. There are a whole host of other achievements I do not have time to go into in detail, Mr. Speaker. From establishing the new Plan Cayman process to the improvements to the airport and runway; from finding new courtroom space to implementing the Standards in Public Life Law; from opening a new 25-metre competition swimming pool on Cayman Brac to providing new trucks to make garbage collection more reliable; from enhancements to our public beaches to celebrating Cayman - this Government continues to deliver on the promises we made to the country when we came into office. It is a track record of achievement that I believe is unparalleled in Cayman’s recent political history.
I also promised to speak about the Government’s future plans. I have touched on many of those, from renewed economic growth to protecting the environment.
At the end of eight years in office, it might be expected that there would be a tired feeling attaching to the Government. I can report to the House and to the country that I detect no such feeling in my colleagues.
Far from proposing to rest on its laurels, this Government remains ambitious for the future of our country. There is more left to do as the country moves forward from the current crisis. On these benches sit the people with the experience of delivery and the strength of vision to do it.
This Government has proven its ability to lead the country through crisis and adversity. On these benches sit the people who the country recognises can provide the leadership to bring us back to prosperity.
I thank all of my colleagues, Ministers and Councillors for their hard work and dedication to the people of these Islands.
Next May I will complete two consecutive terms as Premier and 20 and ½ years as a representative of my people. Although I will not be Premier again, I will stand for re-election in the constituency of Red Bay and God and my constituents willing, I hope to continue to represent my people and assist in governing this country I love so very much following these elections. But more important than that by far is that I am confident that the man who has managed this country’s finances during this term is more than up to the task of succeeding me as Premier.
Next May, Mr. Speaker, the country has a really big decision to make. Does it retain its confidence in those whom it has seen deliver on the promises we have made and who have set out a clear and important vision for the future of our country? Does it stick with those who four years ago committed themselves to put aside political differences in the national interest and who have remained steadfast in that commitment? Or does it instead turn to a mismatched group of individuals who in the past four years have shown that the only thing that unites them is political ambition and political opportunism?
No doubt beyond the official opposition, there are others already recruiting their committees and planning their campaigns against those on this side. We have heard many of them clogging the airwaves and social media platforms to spread their particular mixture of platitudes and misinformation. I have heard lots of talk but no solutions, nor indeed who they will work with to deliver for the Caymanian people.
Going back to Ralph Waldo Emerson, with whose poem I began, in 1841 he gave a lecture in which he distinguished between the “Party of Memory” and the “Party of Hope”. So it is in Cayman today. Some are lining up to stand in our forthcoming elections essentially arguing that now is the time to wind back the clocks; to forget the commitment to growth and to improving life-chances for Caymanians that has served us so well. Instead, they prefer to search for some mythical golden age that exists only in their rose-tinted remembrances.
But theirs is a view of our future that stands on self-imposed limitations, created in memory and turned into a political programme that distrusts our Caymanian ability to forge our own successful future. Its self-appointed leaders want to limit Cayman to some replay of their imagined past because they doubt Caymanians’ capacity to achieve and to thrive in a future that is there to be grasped if we have the courage to do so. I wholeheartedly reject that view.
I am proud of Cayman’s heritage. Next year, I am pleased we will be able to honour our seafaring tradition, not just on Heroes Day but throughout the year. But we also celebrate our advancement as a people. The recent celebrations of 60 years of our Coat of Arms and our Constitution were about the achievements of our pioneers but also about recognising the progress we have made over the last six decades.
The new Constitutional Order that will hopefully be made by the Privy Council in the next few weeks will give us another opportunity to celebrate and recognise our continued development. The Legislative Assembly Law, the new Law for the autonomy of this House that we will debate during this meeting is another important step in our maturity. Both these developments are important way-markers to Cayman’s future.
I am proud of Cayman’s past but I have no desire to live there again.
I am honoured to lead the Progressives. The Party of Progress. But I am also privileged to have led this National Unity Government over this term. Working together in the national interest through these toughest of times, we have retained our shared hope for the future. We have had challenges and, yes, we have had our differences along the way. But we have achieved much progress and created hope and confidence in Cayman’s future by working together and staying together.
Where the Party of Memory says Caymanians must have over-weaning protection to be successful, we say Caymanians need only full access to opportunity and then their inbuilt drive and determination will deliver success.
Where they say our country should fear growth because we are surrendering to outside special interests, we say that growth comes by combining innovation and creativity of the Caymanian people with the knowledge, expertise and financial clout that only comes here because we are bold and visionary.
Where the Party of Memory would limit Cayman’s place in the world to remaining three small Islands adrift in global seas at the mercy of the winds of fortune, we offer the opportunity for Cayman to continue to grow, to punch well above our weight on the global stage and to control our own future.
I do not know exactly what the future holds for Cayman, Mr. Speaker but there is a saying widely repeated in the tech industry that goes “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”
I believe that we have in our power now the ability to create a new future for our Cayman Islands. As this crisis passes, the years ahead will require us not to batten down the hatches but to be bold, and unfurl the sails.
I have confidence and optimism in the future of our people. And, Mr. Speaker, I have confidence that faced with the choice I have highlighted, the choice of regressive malaise versus the bold progress we offer, our people will return those on these benches for an effective third term, unprecedented in Cayman’s political history.