Added expenditures raise queries

Members of the Legislative Assembly Monday debated a bill to appropriate an extraordinary expenditure of $29.3 million in the 2004/2005 financial year.

Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson brought the bill, called the Supplementary Appropriation (July 2004 to June 2005) Bill, 2005, to the table.

Mr. Jefferson said most of the appropriation changes were a direct result of Hurricane Ivan, which struck the Cayman Islands in September.

Two of the key expenditure outputs in the bill include $8.53 million for hurricane debris removal and $5.5 million for repairs and restoration of houses damaged by Ivan.

‘The Government has not had an easy task in balancing the needs of the country at this difficult time and to continue to act in a fiscally responsible manner,’ Mr. Jefferson said.

‘The Government has had to take some difficult decisions and has put a great deal of effort into reprioritising resources and programmes to ensure that the focus has been on the recovery and restoration of these Islands.’

In all, Government forecasted extraordinary expenditures of $43.9 million, which was offset by net gains of $14.6 million through what Mr. Jefferson said was ‘associated with the disposal of Government assets destroyed during Hurricane Ivan.’

The proceedings drew criticism from Opposition members who strongly objected to the way the bill was debated.

In his address, Mr. Jefferson said that he would only deal with financial aspects of the Supplementary Annual Plan Estimates for 2004/2005.

He said Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush would deal with the policy initiatives underpinning the estimates.

However when Leader of Opposition Kurt Tibbetts rose to contribute to the debate, he asked the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly if it would not be more appropriate for Mr. Bush to address the Assembly with his remarks on the policy initiatives before he started his debate.

Mr. Bush responded by saying his policy initiatives with the 2004/2005 Budget were made public at the time he tabled it in May, 2004, and as such, he did not need to address the issue again.

Mr. Tibbetts noted that the additional expenditures were quite significant and seemed to indicate, in some cases, a change of a policy initiative that should be explained by the Government.

He also questioned whether all of the line items were directly related to Hurricane Ivan.

‘The thrust of (Mr. Jefferson’s) address is that all of this has happened as a result of Hurricane Ivan,’ said Mr. Tibbetts. ‘It is clear that some have direct relationships with post-Ivan activities, but others aren’t so clear.’

Mr Tibbetts pointed to five amounts slated to go to the Health Services Authority in a cumulative amount of $9.8 million.

‘Are these supplemental appropriations directly relating to Ivan?’ he asked.

Mr. Tibbetts also pointed to supplemental appropriations to the Cayman Islands National Insurance Company for $3.6 million, and one to the Ministry of Education, Human Resources and Culture for $10.38 million.

‘Government should address these issues to bring clarity to the question marks in our minds as to the policy shifts and the rationale behind them,’ he said.

In responding to Mr. Tibbetts’ remarks, West Bay MLA Rolston Anglin said Mr. Jefferson’s report might not have gone into as much detail as the Opposition wanted.

Regardless, Mr. Anglin said debate on the Bill in the House should not centre on the individual line items of expenditure.

‘When we go into Finance Committee, we will have much more of a chance to go into detail,’ he said. ‘Certain items beg questions that I’m sure many of us want answered. In Finance Committee we will have the opportunity to ask those questions.’