Billed as one of the most important debates leading up to May’s General Election, Cayman Business Outlook’s question and answer session with the Leader of Government Business, Kurt Tibbetts and the Leader of the Opposition, McKeeva Bush had the 300 plus audience on the edge of their seats wondering how each leader would respond to the list of hitherto unseen questions posed by moderator Gary Linford. Business Editor, Lindsey Turnbull reports. First in a series.
Cayman Business Outlook is a conference produced annually by Fidelity in conjunction with a slew of sponsors representing all facets of business in Cayman. Bringing in experts from overseas, the conference organisers always manage to hit the spot, bringing fresh and insightful perspectives on global issues and how they are affecting the Cayman Islands.
As Cayman is in an election year Fidelity took a dynamic approach for its 2009 conference and for the first time invited both the Leader of ruling People’s Progressive Movement party, Kurt Tibbetts and the Leader of the opposing United Democratic Party, McKeeva Bush, to hear their stance on the important issues of the day.
Questions were invited by the moderator, Gary Linford, co-founder of DMTC Group and Managing Director of DirectorsPlus, from members of the public ahead of time which Linford then sifted through, cutting out those that were severely biased or of a personal nature. He then ensured that the questions were not seen by either leader until the actual debate took place.
Leaving no political stone unturned, the Bush verses Tibbetts debate covered the full gamut of issues top on every resident’s mind at this present time, from how the government is dealing with the economic recession to the rollover policy, from the building of the new port to the state of education and youth in Cayman.
Linford had the tricky task of posing contentious questions and ensuring that each politician kept within the requisite 90 seconds per response framework. Kicking off the debate, Linford asked Bush whether the UDP would cancel any infrastructure projects underway should they become the ruling party in May.
Bush responded that although his party had spoken out about the government’s debt burden they would want to see how far on the government was with each project before making any firm decision to cancel.
He stated, “We have never denied the need for infrastructure but we need to be careful that we don’t overburden ourselves.”
Linford went on to ask Tibbetts what preparations the government had put in place to ensure solvency bearing in mind the current economic hurricane about to bear down on the Islands.
Tibbetts said the government was continuing to track revenue streams, a result of which was the postponement of certain projects, yet the government projected $119 million cash in hand at the end of the fiscal year.
Linford then said that the question most often posed to him by the financial services sector was that government had not allocated sufficient resources in Cabinet to deal directly with their industry and had “little political commitment to the finance sector”.
Tibbetts said this was an unfair comment as the government had formed a variety of groups and continually held meetings with stake holders.
He said, “We are continually engaged with the finance sector to determine what assistance we can give to continue to be on the cutting edge. Government clearly understands that without the twin pillars of industry [finance and tourism] there would be seriously detrimental effects. We know we have the best brains in this territory and we need to ensure that we have the legislature to continue to afford them the freedom in which to operate.”
Linford then turned to Bush and said he had often been critical of the government’s support of the financial services industry, quoting Bush as saying it was always the “same old same old”. Linford wondered how the UDP would do things differently.
Bush replied that no doubt the financial services industry was facing serious challenges and that the situation required innovative handling. He said immigration policies played an important part in this issue and said that the financial services industry could not be expected to work under the same immigration policies as the construction industry, for example. He also did not feel that enough was being done as far as government partnering with the industry and said the committees established by government were not producing results and that the industry was not seeing results. Any movement to solidify the partnership was happening “too little, too late” for Bush. The new US administration would no doubt add to the pressure and there was simply not enough lobbying being done in places that really matter, such as London and Washington.
“Merely trotting out newspaper articles hasn’t helped us,” he said. “The government has got it wrong.”
Turning to tourism, Linford said the National Tourism Management Policy (2008 to 2012) had been sitting in draft form with government since 2007 and thus there was still no Cabinet-sanctioned master plan for tourism. He asked Tibbetts what the Leader of Government Business thought was the single most important item in the NTMP to ensure positive performance for this sector.
Tibbetts replied that it was difficult to single out one particular item but confirmed that the port facility project (currently involved with an Environmental Impact Assessment) was vital to Cayman’s cruise business. He said, “It would keep Cayman in line with most other jurisdictions competing with the island regionally who are moving to have, or already have, better cruise facilities. If we fall short in this regard we will be left behind.”
According to Tibbetts, the cruise tourism industry employs 4000 workers and produces around 10 per cent of the jurisdiction’s GDP and was therefore very important as an industry. Cayman Airways was another important facet of the tourism industry and he said it was important for the airline to continue to look at new destinations as it had already with the likes of the Washington and Chicago flights as US carriers were continuing to restrict gateways.
You cannot afford to miss next month’s continuation of this key subject.