The growing pains of a colonial territory

| 27/07/2020 | 46 Comments

Gilbert Connolly writes: The growing pains of a small colonial territory, such as the Cayman Islands, are today varied and complex. Traditionally, the growing pains of a British colony, or territory, have revolved around the removal of the colonial administration, or at the very least the struggle for greater internal self-government. At some point in the future, Cayman will have to reckon with this challenge, because there will come a time when the colonial relationship will no longer be fit for purpose.

Cayman has had its fair share of growing pains, including natural disasters and, sadly, poor political leadership that has stymied its growth economically and socially. Growing pains can be viewed as challenges to be confronted in our personal lives or collectively as a society. Iron ore, to become usable metal, must first go through the furnace; hence, growing pains are a necessary evil.   

2020 has provided an unprecedented number of growing pains for the Cayman Islands. These include being blacklisted by the EU, same-sex marriages, the cruise port referendum, an earthquake, the continued manifestations of an unfair economic system, and the coronavirus pandemic. Much can be written about Cayman’s growing pains; however, in this article I have chosen to focus on two challenges, namely the coronavirus pandemic and our current economic system, which marginalises and holds back a significant portion of Caymanians.  

On 11 March 2020 the World Health Organization announced that the coronavirus was a pandemic and issued certain procedures and practices to follow in the fight against this public health crisis. By this time, COVID-19 cases had been reported in the USA, Mexico and in the Caribbean, namely the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. The first known case of coronavirus in the Cayman Islands arrived the next day on 12 March aboard the Costa Luminosa. This cruise ship was welcomed without any concern for the possibility of the deadly coronavirus being on board. The PPM government, without any prior preparation to fight the pandemic, allowed a passenger to be transferred to a local hospital without any testing for coronavirus. The passenger died two days later from the virus, which means that he had to be infected when he was landed.

 Subsequently, the government reacted to the death of the passenger by announcing policies and restrictions to help reduce the spread of the disease. With few exceptions, residents of the Cayman Islands complied with the directives and emergency laws that were enacted. By the grace of God and the commitment of our doctors, nurses and medical support staff fighting on the front lines, Cayman has fared well in its pandemic response. Premier Alden McLaughlin should also be recognised for his role in the fight against the pandemic.

However, we have not heard the last of it, as there will be new challenges when the borders are open. The government should not be pressured by big businesses to open our borders and put residents at risk. This virus will not be defeated until an effective vaccine has been developed.

Let’s take a closer look now at our current economic system, which I would venture to suggest, requires a clinical overhaul if we are to create a more just, equitable and sustainable society for Caymanians.

With the development and growth of Cayman’s tourism and financial industries over the past 60 years, the islands have created a modern-day economic system. While this economic system has been adopted by other small states in the region, perhaps what is unique to the Cayman Islands is the distribution of the wealth created by the economic system. For the purpose of this discussion, I have chosen to name our economic system Cayman’s Two-tiered Greed and Pain Economic System which has been enabled by the premier and his PPM government.

It is estimated that under Tier 1, or the Greed portion of the system, 80% of the wealth created in the Cayman Islands flows to the wealthy 20% of the islands’ residents, namely big business, real estate agents, expat lawyers and other professionals. Tier 1 employs mostly expat workers and a few token Caymanians. 

Under Tier 2, the remaining 20% of the wealth created is distributed to the remaining 80% of the poor, homeless, Caymanians in low paying jobs. Cayman’s Greed and Pain Economic System is driven mostly by the financial industry, legal and real estate markets. Certain level of greed/profit is considered an essential part of the capitalist enterprise. However, greed is intoxicating and can destroy you.

You cannot have a conversation about economics and wealth distribution in Cayman without discussing education and unemployment. The premier and his PPM government have had seven years to fix unemployment for Caymanians but has failed to do so. It is hard to believe, but the pandemic may have created an opportunity for the government to fix this problem once and all. I trust that the premier has finally seen the direct correlation between the issuance of work permits and unemployment of Caymanians. However, we will have to wait to see how many work permit printing machines Mr McLaughlin has ordered for the new year, as I suspect we will see thousands of permits being issued to new waves of foreign workers. I predict that Caymanians will have to wait for new political leadership to fix this problem.     

The government took over the management of the Cayman Islands Public High School in 1964. About the same time, Sir Vassel Johnson, who is considered the father of our financial industry, started laying the foundation for the sector. Today, we have a first world financial industry, and in my opinion, a third world public high school system. Why has our school system failed? Employers on island often cite poor education and poor training as the reason why young Caymanians are not hired. However, this does not explain why Caymanians returning with degrees from overseas universities cannot find jobs. The same government that says it wants to help Caymanians with employment has a record of rejecting qualified Caymanians for less qualified foreign workers. The real problem is a systemic and institutionalized barrier to the hiring of Caymanians.

The government spends $69,000 per year per prisoner and spends $20, 000 per year for a scholarship for an undergraduate degree. Anyone who has been lucky enough to get an undergraduate scholarship knows that it does not cover the cost of first year expenses for an undergraduate degree. As a society what we seem to be saying is that it is more important to lock our young people up than it is to educate them.  The premier and his government seems to justify in their minds that this is a good thing for Cayman.

The solution is to make education a national priority and improve the standards of academic and technical training. Funding for undergraduate degrees should be increased by 50%. No education and no jobs equal poverty and suffering. This equation justifies having more police, a bigger court system, bigger prisons and more social services, just to name a few. Having said that, I believe that the bigger problem here is the thinking of the PPM government to keep Caymanians in a state of poverty.  

The pandemic appears to have created other political opportunities. I recently read glowing editorials in the local media about what Cayman’s future should be after the pandemic. These editorials were politically correct, but sadly they did not reflect a Caymanian perspective, as there is no mention of the role Caymanians will play in such a future. Be aware of he who offers to plan your future; you may become extinct. If the truth be told, there has never been a plan that prepared Caymanians for roles in a middle-class society. A colossal failure by our political leaders. Is this a new role for certain sectors of the media? Is this another growing pain that Caymanians will have to overcome? Caymanians have learned to overcome the growing pain of devastating hurricanes, and they have learnt to stand up to a deadly pandemic. Caymanians are resilient and I believe that they will learn to change the political regime that imposes on them an unfair economic system.

Under the PPM government, the Cayman Islands have been at sea and adrift without navigational charts or compass. It is mind-boggling when you realise that educated and Christian-minded politicians have treated their fellow Caymanians as second-class citizens and therefore expendables. Greed has become our compass and we have lost our way. I argue that Caymanians need to rethink our social values and our political priorities. I further argue that Caymanians must change the way they think about politics and the selection of their politicians. I recommend that they try participatory democracy.

Perhaps the lyrics of the great Bob Marley best speaks to the change in thinking that Caymanians have to make. “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds. How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look.”

Finally, politics is an art and not an exact science and therefore, in my opinion, we need politicians to exercise compassion and empathy. We need politicians who are prepared to build an economic system based on equity and inclusion of all Caymanians. We need politicians who have the political will to pass the necessary laws to uplift the poor and less fortunate amongst us. No Caymanian, including status holders, who want to be a part of Cayman’s prosperity should be left behind. When will we find a visionary politician to right the injustices visited on us and lead us to the promised land? 

To achieve this goal, we must hold our politicians to a higher standard of performance and accountability. We must demand a new approach to our politics and distribution of economic wealth. We need an economic system based on equity and inclusion of all Caymanians. In the 26 May 2021 general elections, the Caymanian voter will have the opportunity to choose politicians under a new style of politics, participatory democracy. It is time for Caymanians to take their heads of the sand and breathe the air of political and economic freedom.

The views, opinions and thoughts expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do necessarily reflect the views, opinions or thoughts of any organisation, group or individual.    

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Category: Elections, Politics, Viewpoint

Comments (46)

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  1. Madeleine says:


  2. John says:

    The Cayman Islands must be the only country in the world where citizens who were born overseas can vote but cannot stand for election.
    Remember that standing for election doesn’t mean that one will be elected unless a majority of the electorate votes for you.

    Also that almost every person who becomes Caymanian has had to live here for over 15 years.

    Sadly Gilbert has decided to stoke up “them and us” politics.

    60 years ago the Cayman Islands were dirt poor. Men went to sea and the womenfolk bought up the children. Mostly in homes without electricity or sanitary piped water.

    Yes, there still are dirt poor Caymanians, my wife delivers meals to them every week. But there are dirt poor people in almost every country in the world. But overall the standard of living is vastly higher.

    So please take your xenophobia and stuff it.

    • Anonymous says:

      John, you have the right to your views, and so does Gilbert, although I don’t necessarily agree with all that he expressed.

      However, I don’t happen to agree with you on opening up the right to stand for election to persons who not born here. This is not time to make that change—Caymanians are already struggling to hold their heads up above water in the job market. You would be asking for open revolt.

      I see no harm in open discussion and debate, which is what has inspired Connolly’s piece and responses like yours.

      And whether you agree or not, there are views on either side that are detrimental to harmony, some of which needs to be addressed. For example, Gilbert is quite right—we all are aware that our sons and daughters and grandchildren are returning home to a situation where no jobs are available? Why? The friends and husbands and wives of expatriates are holding those jobs.

      Why In God’s name is the government not spending money on placing those returning graduates into positions where they can learn and take over those jobs.

      Why not? Because most of the people at the top of institutions and organizations are looking out for the persons in place and who obviously want to keep their jobs.

  3. Anonymous says:

    28/7@5:30pm – I hope your comment was sarcastic but no surprise if you were serious. Hopefully what you were really taught was that seamens’ remittances (money they sent back home) largely supported our economy during that era. Maybe it is your misunderstanding.

    What our youth are taught in the public schools schools (and no doubt what has been taught since politics and incompetence infiltrated the education system since the mid 1970s) is probably the BS of warped, unsuited and ever-changing curricula, created or adapted by education “professionals” who are simply lackeys to or afraid of inept and inexperienced politicians who hijack the disciplines and ministries that are assigned upon winning a popularity contest called our local elections.

    Imagine what other crap you’ve been taught! No insult to you personally but you may be an example of how our education “system” has failed us!

    • Anonymous says:

      Very well written piece.

      While I may not agree with everything, there is a lot of truth in what the writer says, despite some posters cherry-picking side- as opposed to core-issues.

      I don’t think that we can argue that by and large the prevailing view of Caymanians by an influential sector of our population is that Caymanians are second best—heck, Caymanians regard Caymanians as second best.

      This is precisely because of the two-tier economic system and the money trail. And my experience has been that there is little commitment to real change. The endemic goal Of this sector is to keep the spoils all to themselves and their realm ad infinitum. If this irks anyone, then do something to change this perception, because it is real.

      I also don’t think that we can argue against the need for a call on government to step up and take actions that will genuinely make a difference in this type of dynamic.

      But a lot of these guys are pals, drinking buddies, and mostly interested in patting each other’s backs, and facilitating each other’s growing bounty.

      There are a couple of points, nevertheless, on which I would have liked greater clarity:

      “….80% of us are “poor, homeless, in low paying jobs”? Paints a gloomy picture that I am sure could benefit from some clarification.

      The second point that got my attention is the question of why the school system is not performing commensurate with the level of investment. I agree that we are not getting the return on our money that one would expect.

      That is a complex issue. But I think that it has to do more with us as a society as a whole (we don’t all fit into the same basket) and how we raise, care for, and motivate our children. We don’t seem to have that zeal as a society on the whole for education and cultivating values to live by—doesn’t seem ingrained in us.

      Obviously we do have families that are doing well in all departments, but as a society on the whole we do seem to have good bit of dissonance with our forebears’ values.

      On the other hand, it is time for teachers to get off their self-styled pedestals and to reach out to our children and just listen. You would be surprised at their angst and how reflecting understanding could bring about change. Patents should try that too.

      On the final point that jumped out at me: “However, this does not explain why Caymanians returning with degrees from overseas universities cannot find jobs. The same government that says it wants to help Caymanians with employment has a record of rejecting qualified Caymanians for less qualified foreign workers.

      “The real problem is a systemic and institutionalized barrier to the hiring of Caymanians.”

      That has got to be true!!! The stories of fully qualified Caymanians professionals who cannot get a footing to grow and contribute to building a larger and more upwardly mobile professional cadre of Caymanians are real and can be documented.

      And it is not true that they want to be catapulted to the top. They do want, however, to be accorded the professional respect that they are due.

      On the question of constitutional advancement., it will continue to be a concern whether we like it or not.

      I personally think we do need a plan for advancement,even if only on a step by step basis with no declaration of an distant Ultimate goal. In other words, an open-ended proposition leaving it open to different Constitutional pathways to be taken as we go along.

      But I don’t see how we can bury our heads on that one.

      To the commentators who seem to suggest that participatory democracy is a somehow fuddy duddy idea that has passed its relevance, I suggest that you consider that that is the foundation of all democracies.

      That is what we claim we have here in Cayman. That is what the CIPP is trying get buy into — only a genuine form participatory democracy in which the electorate views, needs and goals, are solicited and given due
      Respect and ample consideration.

      On the article on the whole, Striking the tone to please everyone would have been perhaps difficult to achieve.

      And it may have been unrealistic also to raise issues such as education without more of an in-depth analysts.

      But it got people thinking. And it was remarkably well written.

      So congrats, Gilbert. You put yourself out there and that is far better than a lot of us, including me.

    • Buck toe says:

      I am mindful that the wtiter has expounded on a few areas with some degree of accuracy. The question I have for Mr. Cono

      Y who was once the ahead of Insurance at CIMA is, can you explain what Was your contributions to the education of Caymanians in The industry of insurance and the financial services industry in genera? And secondly did you train up any “ Caymanian” to take over from you in the former position as well as in your post as the Head of the Tourist Attractions. Third but but not least, what do you propose for our educational system should you and/or the political movement you support be elected in 2021 would you as others in the last tinker with the system yet again.

      I truly believe that the public needs to know these asPects in order to truly understand the motivation and honesty of your deliberations.

    • Anonymous says:

      4:30 pm: I think that she misunderstood.

      However, it would not surprise me that the teachers are bereft of a knowledge of the history of the Cayman Islands.

      This is where we need not only Caymanian teachers but the Ministry needs to institute a slate of seminars by knowledgeable people on the history and culture of the Cayman Islands on an ongoing basis.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Oh please. Like your government did anything. The truth of the matter is all governments want to keep the people poor so they can buy them out at election time. And it’s the people fault because they continue to be bought out.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Sir Vassel Johnson, William Walker, James McDonald and others all no doubt deserve credit for their contributions to establishing Cayman’s financial industry – some clearly to their own great benefit.

    But it was the vision and direction of Administrator Sir John Cumber which was the seed and impetus for it all, and many other real advancements in Cayman of that era. He was the driving force!!

    National Hero status and statue for Sir John Cumber!!

    • Anonymous says:

      Wait, I thought it was all these seamen that created the financial services industry. That’s what we are taught in school.

      • Anonymous says:

        It was London.

      • Anonymous says:

        Another of the myths about Caymanian culture. It was British civil servants trying to find a way to get Cayman to make some money so Britain didn’t have to support the country and foreign lawyers like Jim Macdonald and Bill Walker that created the financial services industry. Vassel Johnson deserves credit for being the local bureaucrat who smoothed its passage but it was not his idea or his creation.

      • Anonymous says:

        The great financial system that is seeing a huge failure by Fidelity Pensions to pay their members as required by law. The same great financial system that many want run by Caymanian’s only.
        But wait, who are Fidelity Cayman?
        Oh yea, Caymanians. All those now failing to comply with the law and get our cheques out, are, yes Caymanian.
        Inept, incompetent and way out of their depth.

        • Anonymous says:

          Hello you are not quite accurate @9:55 pm, the bank is really tun by the aha,as and the pension company in particular By a South African. Check your facts I say .

    • Smashing says:

      In those days you needed to knock down a National Historic Monument to be awarded National Hero Status.

    • Anonymous says:

      Bahamas going independent was a real gift to Cayman and the greatest boost to the industry.

  6. Anonymous says:

    ‘Greed has become our compass and we have lost our way. I argue that Caymanians need to rethink our social values and our political priorities. ‘. Funny how when the money is harder to come by, the whining starts. You’ve had the chance to fix things and ignored it because too many families were doing very well so sod everyone else. So whipping up some extra ‘ex-pat bad’ nonsense is the way to go.

    The tired old adage that Caymanians can walk into senior positions just because they are Caymanian is naive in the extreme. They need to start at the bottom like all the other executives had to. A degree doesn’t automatically qualify you for a senior post.

    At the end of the day, nothing will change anyway. The island will continue to bemoan the injustice meanwhile the ‘haves’ will keep on having and the ‘have nots’ will continue to be left behind. The rest of the world will move on and to be honest, the majority of the rest of the world doesn’t even know where Cayman is!

  7. Anonymous says:

    About a 1/3 into this article I simply stopped…. I mean, honestly, this was as nonsensical an article as you could have written Sir … I know you and for you to be complaining about the very same things that have made you and your family wealthy is pure hypocrisy. The majority of Caymanians are doing just damn fine, thank you and I am one of them. Take your Independence egg laying ideas and stuff it and while your at it, swallow that us against them attitude… we true Caymanians are sick and tired of you old guard complaining about Expats and ‘those people’ .. we are one people,. prospering and living harmoniously… Stop it right now Sir!

  8. Anonymous says:

    One of the growing pains was that it apparently cost Alden’s personal associate, Gomez, aka “the Elections Office” KYD$1,320,000 to “verify signatures” for the Cruise Port Referendum Petition.

    CNS: Kearney Gomez has not been supervisor of elections since 2013.

    That’s over four times the cost of actually holding a real Referendum, and over KYD$520 per signature. I think they might have missed a few, because we never got a call, or a knock on the door. Add that to the $9,000,000+ it cost to unwind the premature commitments already entered falsely by this regime. Ridiculous.

  9. Missing old Gasboy card system? says:

    If the Cayman Islands became independent in 1962, it should already have wisdom of a mature person, not growing pains of a toddler.

    When money were plentiful it was free for all and living was as if there is no tomorrow. Now that money are becoming tight, “growing pains” have appeared and a scape goat needs to be found.

    • Anonymous says:

      Look how well independence has worked out for Jamaica, Bahamas or Zimbabwe.
      Better still look North, 200+ years later and they are still tearing each other apart.
      It takes a lot longer than a few hundred years for a country to find its place in the world.

  10. Anonymous says:

    A whole lot of nonsensical assertions and a whole lot of nothing on solutions. Sure focus on education; CIG 18 month budget for education is $150m and we have fewer than 5000 pupils… so we already spend more than any other country on earth per pupil on education bar just one. Next suggestion.

  11. Anonymous says:

    “It is estimated that under Tier 1, or the Greed portion of the system, 80% of the wealth created in the Cayman Islands flows to the wealthy 20% of the islands’ residents, namely big business, real estate agents, expat lawyers and other professionals. Tier 1 employs mostly expat workers and a few token Caymanians. ”

    Ignoring the laughably made up statistics… “token Caymanians”… classy! Way to pi55 on their success.

    • Anonymous says:

      Also, speaking of “ made up “, Vassel Johnson was not “the father of our financial industry”.
      If the late Bill,Walker and others of his time were with us they could tell you the real story.

      • Chris Johnson says:

        It was the late Jim McDonald that pioneered the 1960 Companies Law but surprisingly it was not based on the UK 1948 Companies Act.

  12. Anon says:

    “Participatory democracy”, try including a few leading citizens of expat origin in our Legislative Assembly. They supposedly have all the rights of Caymanians and should be given the chance to represent their growing community. We need fresh blood who can take an educated and unbiased part in the process of Government.

  13. F. says:

    Mr. Connolly,
    How about some solutions and less stroking the xenophobia. You had plenty of time during your tenure working for government…

  14. Anonymous says:

    Where are the solutions Gilbert?

  15. Anonymous says:

    What a load of crapola!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Mr Connolly lots of one side opinion in your article. Take responsibility that Our Caymanian people choose to hire expats, choose to put their thumb on the poor! It is not the expat that’s has built this but rather the greedy leaders who have sold out the company for their own gains. We shoot our seven in the foot constantly. Just yesterday we had our athletes banned because of our leader’s greed. This behavior happens in all sports as well as the chose Cayman leaders line their pockets.
    I think the discussion is how to the poor or middle class as you call it stand up to our own criminal leaders that steal from us in every area of our tiny island.

  17. Hubert says:

    One of the matters that has always intrigued me about the Caymanian employment situation is the fact that 25% of the jobs in the Cayman Islands Civil Service are filled by expats. So if Caymanians return from overseas with an undergraduate degree, why can they not be trained to replace those expats? Aren’t they trainable? The CIG has the power, so I see no reason why they cannot do something in this area of employing Caymanians coming back from overseas with degrees.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hubert this is an overly simplified position. The question you should be asking is what are the posts those 25% are holding.

      I checked. Teachers, Prison Officers and Police Officers make up the majority of the 25%.

      You get the point?

      • Hubert says:

        So are we saying that Caymanians are so entitled and above jobs such as teachers, prison officers and police officers? What is wrong with this picture about a society?

    • Anonymous says:

      Our pragmatic, cosmopolitan-thinking college graduates should aim to displace these career political backbench dinosaurs who can’t evolve. What a low and inflexible bar they set. Gilbert proves again the value the people of Cayman set on bias-based overconfidence and hot air. Ezzard’s “good ole days” dogma CIPP is opening their 2021 campaign by lobbing all the old trash at the wall to see what sticks this time around. Swapping dictators will not get us to good governance.

    • Anonymous says:

      25% filled by expatriates, and 50% of the other 75% are former expatriates. It is disgusting what our own government has done to its own people.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Excellent! Just what we need, another ‘them and us’ article to stoke some xenophobia and ill-feeling when we least need it.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Its easy to find fault No so easy to fix things. You had your chance.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Thing is, Tier 1 can leave. Bob Marley s a poor example for Cayman. Jamaica is not our ideal.

    • Anonymous says:

      I was thinking something similar, only difference was why didn’t he choose a CAYMANIAN artist/influencer to quote….I’ll wait.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thats why Cayman is the way it is! Poor thinking you have! focusing on the most irrelevant thing from the entire article.

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