Councils volunteer expert help for Cayman economy

Their names may be lost in a sea of abbreviations, but
their missions are clear. A mix of public and private committees and councils
continue to work — both publicly and privately – to jump-start Cayman’s
economy and keep it on track.

The Cayman Islands Investment Council, National
Investment Council, Investment Advisory Committee, Private Finance Initiative
Oversight Committee/Big Four Committee and the Planning Review Committee have
separate, yet connected mandates that, in theory, but maybe not always in
practice, are focused on improving Cayman’s investment and business
environment.

Established early last year by the private sector through
the efforts of representatives of Dart Realty and the Cayman Islands Real
Estate Brokers Association and with members drawn from a cross-section of the
business community, the CIIC has tasked itself with increasing investment in
the Cayman Islands and driving growth to local businesses.

Among the numerous members are Chairman Mike Ryan (Orion
Developers), Vice Chairman Tony Catalanotto (CIREBA), Secretary Ed Grampp (Dart
Realty), Treasurer Eduardo d’Angelo P. Silva (banking), Marcus Cumber (Island
Air), Jeremy Hurst (CIREBA), Gene Thompson (real estate and tourism), Jackie
Doak (Dart Realty), Michael Alberga (Thorp Alberga), Woody Foster (Foster’s
Food Fair), Kevin Butler (Conyers Dill & Pearman), Phillip Ebanks (Heart
Health Center) and Simon Whicker (Cayman Finance).

Lynne Byles, managing director of Tower Marketing, was
involved in the original marketing efforts for the council.

“What makes the CIIC unique is that it includes
representation from almost every industry in the Cayman Islands and its goals
transcend individual industry goals,” she says. “Some of its objectives include
encouraging inward investment to the Cayman Islands, the development of local
business, increased investment across all industries and increased tourist
arrivals.

 “Working alongside
other relevant organisations, the CIIC can act as a national marketing agency
that promotes the country, manages its reputation and conveys a message to the
world that the Cayman Islands is an attractive jurisdiction for business
investment.”  

The establishment of the council pointed to the
willingness of local businesses to join forces. “When the global economy took a
nose dive, the private sector came forward with the mindset, ‘How can we
help?’” recalls Ryan. “This response reminded me of how Cayman was in the
aftermath of Hurricane Ivan; businesses stepped up to take an active role in
the recovery process.”

The CIIC was then formed by representatives of a broad
range of industries, as well as such organisations as the Chamber of Commerce,
Cayman Finance and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, with the goal of
creating an environment where people would want to come to invest.

The situation is far from conducive to that goal, Ryan
adds. “Cayman needs to find its way back to the roots of its success – a
friendly, efficient, open, dynamic location. Unfortunately, we have become
complacent with our success, making it harder to get things done, with the
result that potential investors could simply take their business to other
jurisdictions.”

Broad participation

The brain trust that sits on the CIIC is working to make
sure that scenario doesn’t play out. With different industries represented,
members can create a comprehensive strategy.

“We have lawyers, accountants, developers, realtors,
retailers, medical representatives sitting and working together to find solutions;
that is always a good thing to see. There is a huge private-sector desire to
help,” Ryan says.

This eclectic membership is able to respond quickly when
a critical issue arises. For example, when the possibility of property tax was
raised, the CIIC formed a subcommittee and then commissioned and financed a
study to hand in to government, which considered all aspects of the proposal.
Similarly, to better understand immigration reform, the CIIC created another
subcommittee that canvassed legal opinions on the rollover and permanent
residency.

Whatever the issue, members take the council’s mandate
very seriously, explains Cumber. “Like any Caymanian businessman, I am very
concerned about the present global and local economy. Sitting on the sidelines
and not able to assist the private sector and our government was not an option.
During hard times we must all stand up together and be counted. So I was
honoured when members of the CIIC approached me to join and assist.”

The work of the CIIC helped facilitate the creation of
the NIC in March as a clearinghouse for ideas and to respond to Premier McKeeva
Bush’s call for private sector advice on moving the economy forward.

The council’s members are Chairman William Peguero
(Sounds and Things), Cumber, James Bergstrom (Ogier), Jim O’Neill (Caledonian),
Burns Conolly (Burns Conolly Group), Ryan and Dax Basdeo, representing the
Department of Commerce and Investment.

“The NIC was established to drive foreign direct
investment into the Cayman Islands,” explains Peguero. “Our mandate was to look
for foreign investment, identify both the positives and the challenges and set
up the proper environment here so that we can bring business to Cayman.” Since
the council was formed, Peguero has been working tirelessly both here and
abroad to promote Cayman as a desirable place to invest. While acknowledging
the amount of work needed, he is optimistic that the job will get done.

“We have received a positive reception from potential
investors in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America,” he says, adding
that the council is specifically targeting China, Europe, Canada, Abu Dhabi and
Brazil and meeting with business people visiting Cayman. “We have to chase
where the money is.” Cumber is also remaining optimistic. “I hope that with my
different businesses that are all tourism related I can bring that aspect and
experience to the boards,” adds Cumber, who is also a member of the Trade and
Business Licensing Board. “It would be wonderful if within 18 months we could
see Cayman lift out of this stagnant economy and have an increase in revenues
within tourism and the offshore centre. That would mean Government would be
healthier and it’s a win-win for all.”

The work of the NIC is vital, Peguero adds, “Because we
have a global situation where everybody is affected and we’re no exception. We
need to address our issues because our jobs and homes are at stake. This is
real. “We also need to be more united as a nation. We have to stop dealing with
pettiness and understand we are a ship that will either sail or sink. If all we
do is be negative and don’t offer solutions, we can sink the ship. This is the
time to produce; the time is now for us as a nation.”

Government involvement

The IAC is linked to the NIC, providing another layer of
technical expertise and knowledge through the involvement of a cross-section of
government agencies. The NIC regularly consults this committee on improving
interdepartmental cooperation with the goal of clarifying and simplifying the
investment process.

The senior civil servants on the IAC are Gina
Ebanks-Petrie (Environment), Michelle Bahadur (Financial Services), Haroon
Pandohie (Planning), Jennifer Smith (Employment Relations), Carlon Powery
(Customs), Adrian Estwick (Agriculture), Shomari Scott (Tourism), Linda Evans
(Immigration) and Shannon Francis (Commerce and Investment).

To clarify many of the issues that the NIC wants to
address, the council recently sent to government a blueprint for economic
recovery in the form of 10 recommendations for immediate actions that would
encourage investment, increase local business activity and move forward with
major projects.

Among the suggestions:

  • Consolidate all of government’s public relations efforts
    into one unit, which would allow for a consistent and clear marketing campaign;
  • Reform some immigration policies to encourage relocation
    of businesses to Cayman, increase investment and discourage companies from
    leaving;
  • Extend the runway at Owen Roberts International Airport
    and complete the deep-water channel, the former expanding tourism’s target
    market and the latter encouraging large investment projects and supporting
    Cayman as a base of yachting when Cuba opens up;
  • Move forward with private finance initiative vehicles,
    specifically the government office accommodation project and the summary court
    building to enhance public revenue, increase local economic activity and create
    jobs.

Privatisation advice

The ongoing push to encourage PFI projects had already
led to the formation of the PFI Committee in late 2009 (followed by the
creation of and then merger with the Big Four Committee), which advises the
Government on privatisation issues. The PFI/Big Four Committee comprises
Canover Watson (Admiral Administration), Carson Ebanks (chief officer in the
Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development), Ryan and representatives of the
Big Four accounting firms — Committee Chairman Nick Freeland
(PricewaterhouseCoopers), Dan Scott (Ernst & Young), Ian Wight (Deloitte)
and Roy McTaggart (KPMG).

The combined committee was formed with the mandate to
assist the government in pursuing divestment opportunities. The PFI/Big Four
has already looked at the divestment of the GOAP and reported on its findings,
and is awaiting details on the sewerage system, explains Wight.

“We remain willing and able to assist in the areas of our
expertise in putting forward our ideas to government,” he adds.

The diversity of the PFI/Big Four members enables the
committee to conduct comprehensive research while benefiting from an
accountant’s eye for efficiencies.

But, with the application and approval process for any
project all too often a source of much frustration for potential investors, the
Planning Review Committee was formed to inject some much-needed organisation
into the system.

The committee utilises a combination of public- and
private-sector representatives from various fields including architecture,
developing, planning and legal. Chaired by architect Burns Conolly, who
provides a strong technical interface, the committee also benefits from the
input of civil servants as well as the private sector. Ryan, as a developer,
for example, can readily speak to the issues about which investors feel
strongly.  “The mix of experts on this
committee offers different perspectives on the planning process, a valuable
tool in enabling us to make suggestions for immediate improvements plus take a
longer-term look at reviewing the overall procedure to make it run much more
effectively,” Ryan explains. Also on the committee are Walling Whittaker, J.
Samuel Jackson, Barry Martinez, Ron Sanderson, McCleary Frederick, Christine
Maltman and Cindy O’Hara.

With all of these committees basically working toward the
same goal – stimulating business growth – it was inevitable that a few would
have members in common, and this overlap is an advantage.

“Being on several boards at once provides a useful
connector,” Ryan says. “Those of use who serve on more than one committee
streamline everyone’s work by ensuring there is no duplication of effort. And I
hope that my perspective, coming from one of the largest tourist developments
on the island, can offer particular insights that may be useful, especially
since our project reaches across such a wide range of industries.”

But he also has more personal reasons for taking the time
to sit on so many committees. “I care about Cayman’s future as an individual
and as a business owner. I have devoted the majority of my working life here
and injected a massive amount of investment. When Cayman does well, it’s good
for everyone. The mandate of these various councils is to make that a reality
for anyone seriously interested in doing business and investing here.”

 

 

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