(CNS): Premier Alden McLaughlin told a room full of business delegates that things were going very well for Cayman but took aim at populist rhetoric, negative public comments and a critical local media for not shouting from the rooftops about Cayman’s success story. The leader of the current Unity government began his speech at the annual Chamber of Commerce Legislative Lunch Thursday by playing comments made by economist Maria Dukharan during a recent webcast saying Cayman was “the best run economy in the whole Caribbean”.
But he questioned why people from overseas were the ones talking up the country and its achievements when those here delivered a negative and critical message.
“Why do we not say these things loudly and proudly for ourselves? Why are we so consistently negative about our country? Why do so many in the media seem to delight in criticizing all things Caymanian?” the premier asked rhetorically as he started his speech. “I am not suggesting that Cayman is perfect and that there are not issues we need to address and things we need to fix. Nor am I underestimating the threats to our continued success. But I do believe Cayman is a hugely successful story that we should all celebrate and shout from the rooftops, ” he added.
He said Cayman’s economy was founded on the strong entrepreneurial spirit of Caymanians and a willingness to embrace the contributions of the expatriate community, but criticised those who “espouse anti-business sentiment or choose to talk down the contribution of non-Caymanians”. He took aim at those who “do not believe that Caymanians must be given opportunities to participate in the economic success”, claiming that they all fail to understand the lessons of history and risk undermining future prosperity.
“You will not hear those things from me or members of my government,” he told the business audience. “Others may play for what they believe to be short-term populist appeal but the real task of political leaders is to take the right course of action for the long-term prosperity of our country and its people.”
He also raised the fear that the financial sector remains under real threat from “those who would like nothing better than to bring the Cayman Islands’ financial services industry down”. He justified increased spending on CIMA and the financial services ministry in the recent budget as a way of addressing the threat, which was “politically motivated”, and said government was doing all it could to address the challenge.
During an address in which he largely rehashed his Strategic Policy and Budget Statement and made no new announcements of note, the premier said Cayman’s success had not happened by chance but because of “strong leadership, fiscal responsibility and private sector led growth”.
He added that “things are going very well, but the reality is that there is a lot more to do” as the country still faced challenges. He drew what he said was the distinction between “the direction my government is taking and the views of those who, through rhetoric, would undermine the business community and the contribution that expatriates, working alongside Caymanians, make both to our economy and our society”.
However, while he said that he fundamentally disagreed with their conclusions, there was is a “kernel of truth at the heart of the arguments of some naysayers and prophets of doom”.
The premier told the audience that the success story was built upon the implicit understanding that Caymanians must have an opportunity to participate in and benefit from economic growth and described an “economic contract” that included opportunities and the obligations between wealth creators and the people.
“There are those, even among elected legislators, who, it appears, would rather be king of nothing than prince of something. To all in this room, I say that as political and business leaders, it falls to us to ensure that no one feels left behind, serving as prey to those who want to stir them up to become part of a ‘tearing down’ of all we have built. We cannot allow that to happen,” he stated.
McLaughlin claimed that his government and business leaders were “not building an economy to only benefit business or an elite few. But we are building opportunities for all Caymanians who too must be beneficiaries of a buoyant Cayman economy.”
That, he said, meant people had to have the opportunity to work, and although local unemployment had fallen from the 2011 peak of 10%, it was still too high, with 6.2% of local workers without a job, in “an economy as successful as ours”, as he repeated his hopes for full Caymanian employment.
“In the short-term, this means ensuring fair access for Caymanians in the labour market and creating chances for those who would otherwise find it difficult to take advantage of the available opportunities for employment,” he said. He said that in the longer term, the education system had to provide young people with the skills they needed, which were both down to government.
“However, it is the private sector that will create the jobs that are needed and it is you in this room who can give Caymanians the opportunities I believe they deserve,” the premier said, pointing to comments made earlier by President Kyle Broadhurst that the Chamber plans to help strengthen education, employment opportunities and workforce development for Caymanians.
“I do not believe that I have heard this commitment stated so clearly by the Chamber before and so I respond in kind by committing my government to work closely in partnership with you and your members to realise this jointly held ambition,” he told the audience of largely Chamber members.
McLaughlin said his government was showing the political leadership that Dukharan described as part of Cayman’s economic success, as he urged the business community to support the administration and asked them to invest in the jobs that Caymanians need.
“I believe that if the political and business leaders of our country work together there is little that we cannot achieve,” he said. Closing off his address, he claimed that he was working very well with his coalition colleagues in the Unity government and thanked them for their “workmanlike approach”.