Opposition members have blasted Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush’s government on its failure to deliver a budget for the full upcoming financial year.
The lawmakers lamented the lack of a full budget in a debate at the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, following Mr. Bush’s presentation of a temporary two-month budget seeking $127 million to run government.
Legislators passed the interim budget Thursday afternoon, with eight votes for it, six abstaining and one member absent for the vote.
Calling the United Democratic Party government “visionless and clueless”, Leader of the Opposition Alden McLaughlin said this was the first time a government had failed to present a budget at the end of a financial year.
Mr. McLaughlin said Mr. Bush had blamed the previous People’s Progessive Movement administration, the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the civil service for the state of the Cayman Islands’ finances, but the PPM leader laid the blame at the feet of the premier, who is also Cayman’s minister of finance.
Mr. McLaughlin said that the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee, which scrutinises budget figures, would not be able to examine how the $127 million Mr. Bush was seeking would be spent.
“I’ve never been more worried about the state of affairs in this country. I have never seen such recklessness... such inattention to duty... such glibness about what is a major national crisis,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “Here we are, on the eve of the close of the month of June, in this House, debating a motion for the government to have authority to spend two months’ worth of the budget, with no budget to look at, no opportunity to question or challenge what the government policies are, what the programmes are, no Throne Speech - not at the start of this government’s term but on the occasion of what should be its final budget for this term.”
He said was the “height of incompetence” and demonstrated “how little the premier understands about running the financial affairs of this country”.
He added: “Almost three and a half years in charge, you can’t blame me for your inability to produce a budget, even if it has a deficit.”
Mr. Bush, in an interim spending plan he presented earlier in the meeting, sought approval for $84.9 million in operating expenditure - the day-to-day cost of running government and paying civil service salaries. The budget included $5.5 million to pay interest on public debt and $9.7 million to cover continuing construction of the John Gray High School, spending at the Turtle Farm, Cayman Airways, Cayman Islands Development Bank and the Health Services Authority, as well as paying for an aircraft hangar for the Mosquito Research and Control Unit and improvements to the Cayman Brac Vehicle Licensing Department. The government is also seeking a $25 million overdraft facility, which will enable the administration to access short-term borrowing, if needed. By 31 August, the government’s overdraft balance is expected to be $24.8 million.
Mr. Bush revealed that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had twice rejected a proposed budget for 2012/2013 because it contained long-term borrowings of $59 million and a sizeable increase in the overdraft facility for 1 July to 31 December.
The premier said central government was forecast to have a deficit of $1 million for the 2011/2012 year, which ends on Saturday, 30 June.
Mr. McLaughlin said he did not believe Mr. Bush’s assurances about the $1 million deficit, “anymore than I believe that we had a $25 million surplus in August of last year”.
The opposition leader accused Mr. Bush of failing to implement cost-saving measures during the more than three years the UDP had been in power. “Nothing of consequence has been done by the current government to address the fundamental problems which are plaguing the state of government finances,” Mr. McLaughlin said, citing recommendations made in the 2010 Miller Commission Report on fiscal sustainability for the Cayman Islands, which had not been adopted.
During the debate, which continued until 9.15pm Wednesday night and resumed on Thursday morning, North Side independent MLA called for Mr. Bush to resign as the minister of finance, saying the one job he has every year is to produce a budget. He urged Mr. Bush to hand the responsibilities of the ministry of finance over to another minister in his government.Describing the situation as a “sad day” for Cayman, Mr. Miller pointed out that normally, the first meeting of a new session of the Legislative Assembly is marked with pomp and ceremony, by the governor reading a Throne Speech and by live media coverage of the event.
“For me, it is embarrassing and I am ashamed to be a member of this honourable House that is establishing this kind of history in this country,” Mr. Miller said.
He said the government’s amendment of the Public Management and Finance Law in 2010, which allowed an extra two months for a budget to be presented, had set the precedent for the government again coming to the Legislative Assembly to seek an extra two months to prepare an annual budget.