Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fixing up George Town

The way things are going, George Town (our main commercial centre) will lose most of its relevance within the next ten years. Camana Bay – four miles to the north – is very up-market, and a much more attractive place for stopover tourists and cruise-passengers alike. It would be unfair to say that George Town is looking seedy, yet – or even particularly tired; but it does have some tacky retail shops and eating-places, not appropriate for middle-class visitors. There’s a lot of chatter about sprucing GT up, to compete with the new town. 

Camana Bay was established just a few years ago, designed by the best town-planners Ken Dart’s infinite supply of capital could buy. As the owner of the whole development Mr Dart has had the freedom to negotiate the re-siting of roads and the allocation of land-units. He has done a superb job.

Predictably, his commercial park knocks the socks off downtown, as an attraction for visitors. GT grew up before the days of professional town-planning. Confined in a haphazard layout of mildly congested streets and lanes, financial-sector offices rub shoulders with cheapo T-shirt shops and rowdy bars. Wild chickens share the sidewalks with pedestrians. (Actually, they’re quite cute, especially when they hang out around the KFC shop, but – well, let’s just say it’s not quite in accordance with the image that our “offshore” hotshots would like to project!)

Downtown merchants are increasingly indignant at the bussing of cruise-passengers up to Camana Bay, to shop and wander around, but are relying on government to help them out and to pay for whatever it costs. That’s pretty pathetic, but par for the course, in a Cayman in which people are encouraged to suck on the government teat rather than find their own sustenance. 

Regrettably, Cayman is no longer a self-help society. A couple of months ago, in a blog-post called Give a kid breakfast, I grumbled about the welfare mentality that encouraged parents of schoolchildren to rely on charities to feed those children. Some of the parents are genuinely not competent to manage the money they earn, but most seem to believe that they are entitled to mooch off the rest of society at every opportunity. The entitlement culture, we call it.

Charity recipients are supposed to be means-tested, but most people I speak with believe the testing-system is corrupt. Certainly, many of the kids applying for the free school-meals come from homes with fancier cars than Linda and I can afford!

Ah well…  We can’t blame the politicians and government bureaucrats for turning a blind eye to the corruption that allows self-reliance to be thrown out the window. After all, it’s the absence of self-reliance that keeps them all in their well-paid jobs. Their secret aim in life is probably to abolish self-reliance altogether. 

(Outside the offshore-finance sector, Cayman is galloping towards full socialism. Already we have quasi-communist state control of the entire workforce, and already there are moves to control day-to-day operations of commerce, too – offshore-finance excepted.)

As a general statement, our downtown merchants are milking the entitlement culture as much as the free-breakfast mothers. They (the merchants) want government to make their place more attractive, and seem unwilling to do anything substantive themselves – or to pay for the refurbishment demanded. They’re too cheap to even set up a Merchants Association, for goodness sake. If they’ve even thought about it. 

Thirty years ago our Chamber of Commerce was slapped awake from a long sleep by an enlightened group of local businessmen, just in time to fight off a proposed Income Tax that would have destroyed Cayman’s prosperity. It was a narrow escape, and the total cost was a mere $100,000. Who will slap today’s downtown merchants awake, and persuade them to finance a war-chest of $100,000 or so? 

If they can’t find an enlightened group from within their number, they won’t deserve to survive. Sadly, it seems that all the get-up-and-go of earlier times has simply got up and gone.