Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush has urged members of the Legislative Assembly to pull together to rebuild the Cayman Islands.
‘I believe people want us to work together,’ he said Monday night. ‘What the people of this country want is a unified force.’
He was debating the bill for an extraordinary expenditure of $43.9 million, brought earlier in the day by Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson. (See yesterday’s Caymanian Compass.)
Mr. Bush suggested that Leader of the Opposition Kurt Tibbetts did not get into ‘muck and mire’ while debating the bill because ‘he knows in his heart the country faces extraordinary times.’
Both Mr. Tibbetts and his George Town colleague MLA Alden McLaughlin had questioned whether the supplementary appropriation bill reflected changes in Government policy since the 2004-05 Budget was presented last year.
After Mr. Bush completed his remarks, Speaker of the House Linford Pierson said he was satisfied that he had heard no significant changes in policy initiatives, compared with the Budget bill that came before the House last year.
He observed that most of what Mr. Bush stated had been available in the media. ‘I see no need for second chance debate,’ Mr. Pierson said.
Mr. Bush reviewed some of the urgent issues that Government had to deal with immediately after Hurricane Ivan: power, water, phones, the port and airport, temporary shelters, government services, the key economic sectors of finance and tourism and getting schools open again.
‘Government acted as quickly as humanly possible,’ he said.
The Cayman Islands Recovery operation was established with three priorities: coordination of recovery, debris removal and temporary housing.
He reminded members that government departments had been relocated, roads rebuilt, schools repaired and financial assistance given to various groups.
Mr. Bush said his life had been dishevelled since the Thursday before Hurricane Ivan and life in government had not been the same. He was satisfied he was doing important work for the country, but he had been accused and ridiculed.
‘With the help of Almighty God, He’s going to give me strength to finish out the next four years. I’ll be 54 and I’ll say to the country through this medium – I don’t intend to run after that. But we have work yet to be done….
‘I would walk away from it if I was a coward because I’m tired of working without facilities. I am tired of working under the system that we have where I’m held accountable, but I have no authority,’ Mr. Bush said.
‘I am tired of having to work with a Governor who sometimes says one thing and sometimes does another thing and if he can slap you behind your back you get it.’
Mr. Bush, Minister for Tourism, Environment, Development and Commerce, reported the financial sector is fully operational and tourism is recovering faster than many expected. But Cayman will miss this season, ‘which will hurt a lot.’
He said he had made the right decision to make a partnership with the cruise industry. Without it, he implied, there would be people laid off from duty-free shops, buses lying around empty and general unemployment.
Ivan will have more than a short term impact, he pointed out. Government understands there must be more than short-term responses.
Mr. Bush gave thanks for loyal civil servants, some of whom worked until two or three in the morning.
He said Government is committed to fiscal responsibility, although it would have been easy to spend after Hurricane Ivan and not think about where the money was coming from.
All departments had been asked to re-set priorities. The result was a $1.7 million deficit – so small that the budget could be considered balanced, even with a wide range of recovery efforts funded.
Funding will be mostly from reserves, he explained. ‘The fact that we have them is testimony to the fiscal prudence of this Government.’
Under the previous Leader of Government Business, Mr. Bush said, cash reserves were equal to less than two days expenditure. ‘We grew it to almost 60 days.’
Government has made the effort to keep the economy strong, he said. The waiver given to The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman was a small concession with a large economic impact. When open, that development will represent seven per cent of Cayman’s gross domestic product, Mr. Bush said.
‘We can’t do anything for people unless we have money to do it with,’ he said.
Despite the hurricane, despite the upcoming elections, Government continued to be fiscally responsible, he said.
He invited everyone to a gospel concert, which had been planned for his birthday, in West Bay on Saturday night. On 19 March, a concert will be held in North Side for the three Eastern Districts to assist with raising funds to help people who do not have insurance.
Mr. Bush closed by inviting the Opposition to ‘walk with us in this walk, pull the same oar in the same direction, sing from the same hymn sheet’.
He understood that MLAs have to be concerned with their constituents’ problems. ‘But let us not blow things out of proportion,’ he urged. ‘We are still in a precarious position.’