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(CNS Business): Caymanians will not be guaranteed jobs within the new Special Economic Zone but government will look at the best ways to ensure there are opportunities for employment for them via mentoring, scholarships and training, according to Dax Basdeo, Chief Officer, Financial Services, in the Ministry of Finance, who was speaking at last week’s UCCI 50/50 conference. The government considered the Cayman Enterprise City and the Shetty hospital projects to be good choices for diversifying Cayman’s economy as they were both areas of industry that would fulfill current global needs, but government itself had had to become more entrepreneur-friendly in the process. Cayman was no stranger to the concept of a specially identified economic zone as the financial services industry had operated in a type of zone with its own regulatory body and legislation for years, he said.
Basdeo gave a presentation on the development of Cayman’s Special Economic Zone outlining the process by which government determined which new projects would be of most benefit to Cayman in terms of diversifying the economy. He said an important first step had been to understand global market needs and see what the Cayman Islands could offer to meet those needs. Their research had found that potential new industries were in areas such as IT and software, environmental technology, healthcare, training and education and creative industries, such as music and films. The commonality with such industries was that they were all knowledge based, people-driven industries, he said.
The challenge had been to make the government more entrepreneur-focused, considering the challenges of bureaucracy that it faced, along with uncertainty in the regulatory system. He highlighted the ten changes to the immigration law that took place in 2006 as an example which, he said, did not lend itself to predictability for businesses and affected whether businesses would choose the Cayman Islands when considering where to set up shop.
(Following the presentation, Basdeo clarified that there were changes to both Immigration and Labour Laws and Regulations. "The increased 'activity' in the last 10-15 years demonstrates a degree of unpredictability in policies that affect the labour force, which isn't ideal in a knowledge-based economy. 2006 was a 'busy' year, but the 10 actions referenced were not only for the Immigration Law.")
Trying to ascertain how to diversify and give increased stability had also been a challenge and the Cayman Enterprise City and Shetty hospital projects both stood out as ones that would fulfill the requirement of diversification.
Special economic zones were not new concepts, Basdeo said, and had been around since the 1950s. There were currently around 3,000 spread across 120 countries and they were an important tool to attract foreign investment. The concept was not new in the Cayman Islands, he argued, stating that Cayman’s financial services industry had operated in a kind of zone for many years, with its own regulatory body, the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, overseeing the industry, distinctions between resident and exempted companies, specific immigration practice directives and the requirement for it to adhere to international standards.
Benefits to the economy would come indirectly through employees in the SEZ spending money within the community but the government was not in a position to guarantee jobs for Caymanians within the Special Economic Zone. Instead government would look at ways to develop skills sets for local people so that they could compete with foreign workers. However, although a 5 per cent to 15 per cent growth in Cayman’s economy had been predicted as the new projects unfolded, Basdeo conceded that perhaps real growth might be lower.
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