Three of the four candidates for the George Town West seat participated in the penultimate Candidates Forum of the Chamber of Commerce for this month's general election on April 14th.
Present were Pearlina McGaw-Lumsden, Kenrick Webster and former representative Ellio Solomon. The defending MP David Wight did not attend.
As has been the pattern of the series, the candidates addressed a range of issues drawn from a survey carried out by the Chamber and questions submitted by the public. These included their priority concerns for George Town West as well national issues.
Discussing growth in Cayman against the backdrop of the environment and population increase, the three candidates were generally on the same page in calling for a national plan as a precursor:
Dr Webster: “I think we need to make sure that we have a comprehensive plan before we try to push too many people within the country.”
Mrs McGaw-Lumsden: “I think if we could take a page from the Dart book we’ll be in good standing...Do we have national policy in place, similar to Vision 2008?”
Mr Solomon: “I believe that whatever growth we have and whatever benefits we see as a country it has to translate into benefits for people.”
They were equally adamant against suggestions for ten-storey buildings in the constituency and strongly against any impediments to beach access.
Discussing affordable housing, each expressed concern over real estate speculation by foreign investors in particular which they argue was inflating prices out of the reach of the average Caymanian.
Saying that the Caymamian dream has been to own a home, Mr Webster stated, “That dream has now become an illusion. How we can fix that problem is that we first need to have a law put in place where persons cannot just buy raw land, if they're not Caymanians.”
For Mrs McGaw Lumsden: “Government needs to be very vigilant and very aggressive when it comes to acquiring Crown for affordable homes for young Caymanians. “
She also called for the National Housing Development Trust to be better resourced.
Mr Solomon reverted to measures he had put in place while previously in government.
“We had a consortium of contractors that were able to build affordable homes, so it's proven that you can build two-bedroom homes, really nice beautiful homes for 75,000…I think those homes are actually viable, and they're doable.”
And he also pledged to bring back another initiative to support local property ownership.
“When we were increasing stamp duties within the zone, I actually passed a piece of legislation that was going to allow a lot of those monies to be able to go to the National Housing Development Trust to be used specifically for housing. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened. But if I do get a chance to serve again in office I'm going to make sure that it does.”
The housing is issue reflected a wider discussion about the cost of living including the minimum wage.
“We're in a crisis, when it comes to the cost of living,” Pearlina McGaw-Lumsden declared, and suggested: “What I think that needs to be implemented is consumer protection first and foremost to govern unfair practices." She called for waiving import duty on basic family necessities.
Ellio Solomon pointed to the findings of the ESO (Economics and Statistics Office) saying “they will show you that the top three things in terms of the cost of living are; number one housing and utilities, and the second one is going to be transportation and the other one is food.”
He also cited fuel costs and criticised the government for moving too slowly on a national energy policy.
The former legislator floated the idea that the government could invest in farming not just locally but overseas to reduce food costs.
Kenrick Webster also saw local farming as a way to alleviate the cost of living in local farming, an issue he said which has been highlighted by the pandemic.
“It was a panic during COVID-19 about the supply of food, but we can produce food here. We could have a substantial amount of food for local consumption,” he said while suggesting concessions for farmers to offset the cost of water for agriculture.
Mr Webster also felt that sourcing food imports from South America as an alternative to the United States.
In discussing health insurance reform it was also agreed that it too health is a major contributory factor to the high cost of living with the candidates proposing methods for reducing the premiums and access to healthcare.
The three candidates competing for the George Town West seat put forth their views on several other current issues in their bid to replace incumbent David Wight who was absent from the discussion.
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