Promises Made, Promises Kept!

In 2013, I embarked on a journey to work on behalf of the people of this country at a crucial point in our history. Caymanian unemployment was at a record high of 10.5% at the time, the economy was stagnant, and business confidence was low.

For years, we have heard many promises from politicians who have been elected for decades. Promises amounting to nothing more than political rhetoric and rousing soundbites. However, simply talking about these problems every four years is not sufficient; and since taking office in 2013, I have ensured that action was taken to address some of the critical concerns and issues facing our Islands.

As a Member of the Cabinet, I have worked closely with my other Cabinet and Government colleagues to ensure that much work has taken place to address a myriad of issues and concerns during our four-year tenure; and we have gotten results.

"Research, strategy and action!" That has been the manner of work undertaken to address education and employment in particular – 2 of the most critical subject areas in one of the most important Ministries of the Government.

Preparing the Future, Today

I know how powerful and transformative education can be in the life of a child, and how critical it is to the sustainability of our country.

Education is a process that extends beyond any 4-year political term; it requires political leadership that not only understands this but also acts in a way that supports the sustained growth and development of the system.

As an elected member, I have continued to support positive initiatives put in place by previous government administrations. As Minister, I have established long-term policies, legislation, and plans of action for those areas that required immediate attention. The areas I believed necessitated such significant attention are Special Education Needs, Behaviour Management, Conflict Resolution, and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). Additionally, I increased Public-Private Partnerships in Education and Training, and continue to raise standards in education to develop our academic system as an internationally competitive education centre of excellence here in the Cayman Islands. However, we have not only developed such policies, legislation, and plans, but we have also already begun to implement them!

Under my leadership as Minister for Education, sustained efforts have been made to improve the literacy and numeracy rates. Local experts involved in the public education system have themselves been responsible for the development of the 2016-2017 Education Plan of Action which has been deemed to be "outstanding" and "cogent, coherent and comprehensive" by the world-renowned education reform expert, Dr. Avis Glaze. Similarly, international behavior, literacy, and numeracy specialists have attended the various national professional development conferences held for our local educators, to enhance their knowledge and expertise for the betterment of our local education system.

The literacy targets set for 2020 are being met in a manner that is achievable. Targeted interventions have been introduced for all Year 1 and Year 2 classes in the public primary schools to assist those students who are struggling to keep pace. The goal set is that by 2020, 100% of the students leaving Year 2 will be reading and writing on the level. In fact, the schools have met and exceeded the first year’s target set - that by the end of the 2015-2016 school year 85% of Year 1 students should be at or above reading level. As reported by the schools at the end of the 2015-2016 year, 86% of Year 1 students met or exceeded the target.

Guidelines and a National Curriculum for Early Childhood Care and Education have been established and approved by the Education Council. We now have a framework and a curriculum that enables educators to provide our youngest learners with the best chance and start in life.

I am the first Minister for Education to carry out a system-wide review of the entire public education system, to assist in driving the targeted improvements and enhancements necessary for the system to improve in line with global standards.

From numeracy to literacy, we have a support system and programmes in place that targets young people who are struggling. We have forged alliances and partnerships with the private sector to provide not only financial assistance but also human capital who volunteer their time for the benefit of our children.

Without a doubt, we have made tangible, measurable, positive and undeniable progress over the past several years, and the facts support this. However, we must continue to promote access to educational and vocational training opportunities and to invest in learning resources that translate into marketable skills, more jobs and greater opportunity for our people.

It is my aim as your elected representative to continue the hard work that we have started, advancing ways to obtain the necessary data, and securing the necessary steps to act on it. We will be continuing to work to improve the forecasts, possibilities, and achievement of coming generations. It is imperative that we continue this process to create a system that provides the best possible quality of education for our children, as well as to prepare them for the modern globalised economy that is an integral part of the Cayman Islands.

From May 2013 until today, I have worked tirelessly to raise the standards of education in our country to ensure that every Caymanian child has access to an invaluable education. The new Education Law, 2016 that was favourably passed in the Legislative Assembly in October 2016 not only sets national standards for every school operating in the Cayman Islands, but it ensures every child, regardless of their ability or special needs, will have a chance to reach their full potential.

While setting new standards in education in the country was a significant achievement, great strides have been achieved in Labour — another one of my campaign platforms during the 2013 General Elections.

Addressing Employment

Upon taking office, I sought to address the employment concerns of both job seekers and employers in a systematic and well-planned format.

When I took office in 2013, the unemployment rate was at all-time high of 10.5% among Caymanians. In contrast by 2016, the level of unemployment for Caymanians had dropped to a low of 5.6%.

One of the first tasks undertaken was to improve the National Workforce Development Agency (NWDA) so that it was adequately resourced and staffed to provide the necessary assistance to Caymanian job seekers looking help. I also pushed for more modern systems and processes to be put in place at the Agency. That work has paid off.

Today, Caymanian job seekers can not only search for jobs on the NWDA website, but they can also register with the Agency and upload their resumes online so that they can be matched for jobs or apply for jobs themselves directly using the system. Job seekers who need more assistance to enter the job market, now have free access to training and ‘up-skilling’ programmes that get them ready-to-work. Another key achievement was nurturing a relationship with private sector employers. With 1900 companies and roughly480 job postings per month registered with the NWDA means that employers are actively posting job vacancies with the NWDA and working closely with the agency to employ Caymanians who are ready-to-work. On average, 20 persons per month gain employment as a result of working with or through the NWDA.

Major employers, from the construction industry to the financial services sector, are not only offering more jobs to Caymanians, but are also providing more internship and apprenticeship opportunities. Because a good working relationship has been fostered with employers, organisations like Cayman Finance and the CITA have also opted to run programmes and offer internships that are granted to young Caymanian students who want to work in financial services and tourism, respectively.Up to 125 students have already benefitted from the partnership with Cayman Finance in just two short years since it launched in April 2015, with an additional 75 students expected to participate again this year. Through the Ready2Work.KY public-private partnership, over 60 people were successful in finding employment so far.

We have continued to invest in our people, and have made provisions specifically for funding technical and vocational programmes. As of September 2016, the Scholarship Secretariat has reported that 1446 students are on government scholarship; this is up from 844scholarship students in 2013. This represents a 42% increase in the number of students on scholarship since taking office in 2013! In addition, all government scholarship students pursuing post-secondary studies are now required to register with the NWDA to better assist them to access available internships and apprenticeships and to support them in transitioning from being students to the world of work.

We have also launched a new online NWDA/Immigration database interface to increase the level of transparency and accountability in the work permit process, and to help Caymanians get access to the real employment opportunities that exist.

With this new interface launched in 2014, the Work Permit Board, the Business Staffing Plan Board and the Immigration Department can access the relevant information registered with the NWDA. Before work permits are authorised, Immigration and the Boards can access information to ascertain which jobs were recorded with NWDA before applying for a work permit, who has requested employment and verify that no suitable Caymanians were omitted out of the job opportunity.

District Clinics have been set-up and operate regularly so that the services of the NWDA are brought closer to the people in their communities to assist those who cannot reach the centralized location in George Town.

We have established a National Training Council that is responsible for assisting in the development of quality training programmes across all industries and overseeing their success by bridging the gap between the major employers, industry stakeholders, educational professionals, and individuals.

Over the last 3 years, in particular, the NWDA was tasked and has successfully worked with local companies to develop various apprenticeships, internships, and targeted training workshops. A Training Manager and TVET Coordinator was hired specifically to move this agenda forward.

The WineSchool 3 Bartender Certification Training Programme was developed to help those persons interested in the industry get the right tools to gain employment in this area. The Health Care Administrator programme was launched together with Health City Cayman Islands. The Public Works Department (PWD)/ Cayman Islands Further Education Centre (CIFEC) Construction Apprenticeship Programme was developed and launched to provide an opportunity for interested Year 12 students to get hands on, structured training and work experience coupled with appropriate technical qualifications while still in high school; this will to enable greater job access and further training in the technical trades upon graduation.

These are examples of some, but certainly not all, of the effective employment initiatives that were developed and implemented during my tenure as Minister.

Addressing Poverty

In early 2014, I oversaw the development and launch of a Minimum Wage Project by determining the necessary stakeholder members and technical assistance needed to establish a Minimum Wage Advisory Committee. This was the first time that the country had embarked on such a quest; to do more than just talk about the need to address the issue.

In May 2014, Cabinet confirmed the creation of the country’s first Minimum Wage Advisory Committee, later accepted the Minimum Wage Advisory Report produced by the Committee in 2015 and adopted the recommended minimum wage provisions, and finally introduced the National Minimum Basic Wage of the Cayman Islands on 1 March 2016. The National Minimum Basic Wage ensures that, by law, no one is allowed to get paid a wage that is below the 'poverty line' (or in our case, what has been determined to be the Economic Vulnerability Threshold). Over 6000 people and families benefitted from the introduction of the Minimum Wage, and going forward it is expected that the Minimum Wage will be reviewed and adjusted as necessary taking into consideration inflation and other prevailing economic conditions at the time.

Promoting Self Sufficiency in the Golden Years

As Minister, I have also tackled some long-standing issues facing (private sector) pensions. In just one 4-year term, I was able to work with my team to pass significant and long-overdue amendments to the National Pensions Law. We abolished the notion of a retirement age (60) determined and defined by law, and raised the pension entitlement age from 60 to 65, affording Caymanians a longer period to work and earn a living. This change was made to address the concern about people being forced to retire at age 60. Under the new legislation, the pension contributions cap was increased from $60,000 to $87,000 per year, which was in line with inflation over the years and allows people to save more towards retirement.

The controversial provision that discriminated against Caymanians by favouring expatriates taking a lump sum payment when they left the Cayman Islands for just six months was changed to ensure access to pensions by all, Caymanians and expatriates, is now on a level playing field.

Pensions administrators are now required to hold Annual General Meetings, to demonstrate they have the necessary skills to administer pensions, to increase the frequency of statements produced, and to inform their membership of their expense ratios and investment returns earned on the pension fund. All of these changes allow for better information about the performance of the various pension plans.

Also as result of the changes, people are now able to gain access to their Additional Voluntary Contributions before retirement for needs relating to education, health, housing, and unemployment.

The pension payout schedule has been amended for the first time to ensure that retirees will now receive more than $1000 per month. Now the annual pension payouts will be adjusted for inflation going forward, will increase as retirees get older and are based on the overall sum in their pension account at the end of any given year, with a lump sum payout available after they reach the age of 89.

Equally Valuing Our Women and Men, Boys and Girls

As a woman and the only female member of Cabinet, promoting gender equality is of great importance to me. I successfully pushed to have CEDAW extended to the country in March 2016. Through the extension of CEDAW, the Cayman Islands have committed to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in our legal system and adopt appropriate laws prohibiting discrimination against women. In March 2014, in anticipation of having CEDAW extended, I hosted the first ever National Conference on Women which brought together 200 women and men to consider the CEDAW principles in the context of the Cayman Islands reality.

During my four-year tenure I have also worked to promote gender equity across the various government Ministries and Departments, and in particular have ensured that all policies and legislation put forward by the Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs have been drafted to be gender inclusive.In November 2016, we celebrated Women’s Entrepreneurship Day for the first time, recognising the contributions of women entrepreneurs to our economy.

One of the highlights and key goals of mine has been commissioning the development of a documentary entitled “Her Story is Our History” chronicling the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the Cayman Islands. This documentary is intended to be a teaching tool for current and future generations. It ensures that the brave actions taken by the early pioneers of gender equality in the 1940s and 1950s that led to the passage of legislation giving women the right to vote and stand for election to public office in the Cayman Islands are not forgotten.

Working to Better Our Community: Focusing on West Bay

Throughout my four years I have made myself available to, have met with and helped hundreds of West Bayers during my weekly Constituency Clinics held at my West Bay office. As your West Bay South representative, I will continue to listen to and advocate on behalf of your concerns, take on board your suggestions, and work with you to improve your neighborhood. Together we can be the change we want to see.

As a representative of West Bay, I have kept my promise to you to work on your behalf with whomever Caymanians elected to govern these islands.

In this regard, I have been working to secure a new cemetery in West Bay and plans are progressing. I improved the safety of children and other pedestrians crossing the road to Sir John A. Cumber Primary (“SJACPS”) and the West Bay Health Centre by upgrading the crosswalks and installing traffic signals. Improved playground equipment and other facilities have been provided at SJACPS, and the extensive refurbishment of the old classroom block has begun and will be finished before the start of the new school year. We have also improved health and safety of the Fire Officers stationed at the West Bay Fire Station by upgrading and repairing the air conditioning system and refurbishing the station.

To address safety concerns of constituents, I have also requested the NRA to install additional street lights and to maintain suitable shoulder space for pedestrians to walk along Batabano Road. I have also contacted the Parks and Recreation Unit of PWD and requested work to be done to improve the seawall and boat launch ramp facilities at the Garvin Park. I have also requested that the Department of Sports ensure that the bathroom facilities are constructed at the SJACPS field.

Since January 1, 2014, and each year following, I have had the pleasure to establish, organise and host what has become the biggest district family event of the year – the "Old Time New Year" Family Fun Day. Each year well over 1000 people come out to try their hand at spinning gigs, jumping rope, playing hopscotch, hula hoops, three-legged races, sack races, lime & spoon races, horseback riding, tug-of-war, boxing, football and so much more. The family fun day caters to the young and young-at-heart and brings out many committed and dedicated volunteers that freely give their time to make the day a resounding success.

Looking Ahead: Working for a Better Tomorrow

By improving education, increasing employment opportunities, reducing crime, promoting gender equity, managing growth and development, holding our leadership accountable, and practicing fiscal responsibility—we are ensuring that our way of life is protected for generations to come. We are on track to producing the world class education system that we are striving to achieve, and with your help, we can continue this progress in the upcoming four years.

As your representative for West Bay South, I am committed to continuing my work to make our communities and this entire country stronger. Every day I work for you, alongside hard working civil servants and Members of Government to carve out a better future for our children. While we have made great strides in education, labour, and gender, there is still so much more to be accomplished.

I worked hard to pass critical legislation such as the Education Law, 2016 — a law that needed to be passed decades ago; and made critical amendments to the National Pensions Law – the first major revision since the law came into force in 1998, and the work continues. I am proud of what has been achieved in raising standards in education and getting our people back to work, but I know that much attention should be given to the needs of our country's educational and employment needs.

I am here for you.

With your vote, I will continue to ensure that the new Education Law is fully operationalised. For far too long, our children with special needs have slipped through the cracks. This is not acceptable to me. I believe every child in this country, regardless of their ability, should be given an equal chance to succeed and reach their full potential. I have taken practical, tangible and measurable action to address this, so you can TRUST that I will continue to act in this way going forward.

The Labour Relations Bill, 2015 that was drafted and distributed for public consultation also needs to be finalised. The draft Bill contains provisions to protect Caymanian employees from being disadvantaged in the job market, to protect employees on the job with enhanced occupational health and safety regulations, and strengthened redundancy, severance, and unfair dismissal provisions. Similarly, it will protect local employers by clarifying certain areas of the law that are ambiguous. Extensive feedback has been collected on the consultation draft Bill which has been examined, and the Bill is currently with Legislative Drafting for revision. My hope is to see this legislation through to the final stage of amendment, review, passage and adoption in the next Term.

Every worker in this country deserves a safe, equitable and healthy environment to earn a living; and every employer deserves to have labour legislation that is transparent, fair and provides guidance as to compliance. I am committed to making this happen!

Looking ahead, I will continue working to strengthen (and restructure if need be) the employment mechanisms to create the most appropriate means of regulating the local labour market. I endeavor to give Caymanians the best opportunities to access the jobs available while ensuring that businesses can attract the skilled labour needed to drive the economy.

I will work to ensure that all jobs are advertised locally first before they are advertised overseas. This was something that I advocated for from the very beginning, and I am glad that the Government has agreed to adopt this policy going forward. This includes changing the roles that the Immigration Department/Boards and the NWDA play, possibly by creating an amalgamated entity which deals with the processing of work permit applications and the listing of job vacancies. The Ministries of Employment and Home Affairs have already been tasked and are working to find a solution to address this concern

With your support, I will continue to work tirelessly for our country, creating a better tomorrow for you and for future generations to come. This is my passion, my commitment and my duty as your representative. Based on my track record of "PROMISES MADE, PROMISES KEPT," you can have confidence knowing that by voting for me on May 24th, 2017, you are voting for LEADERSHIP YOU CAN TRUST!

I am proud to stand on and promote a platform that will enable the growth and development of our country’s human resources, and one that can meet the demands of the modern, globalised world of the 21st century. I have delivered on the promises made in 2013, and I look forward to delivering on your behalf in the next four years to come.