Gov’t spending assailed

An opposition party member has said government spending to support its operations is spiralling out of control, even without taking into account the money the Cayman Islands plans to borrow in its next budget year.

‘Five years ago (government spent) just $291 million. Here we are…seeking to approve expenditure of some $481.6 million,’ Opposition MLA Rolston Anglin said during his Legislative Assembly debate Wednesday.

Mr. Anglin said the government’s operating budget has risen steadily over the past five years; including a proposed nine per cent jump from the 2006-2007 spending plan to the upcoming 2007-2008 budget.

‘That’s a huge increase,’ he said. ‘That has absolutely nothing to do with the borrowing.’

The ruling People’s Progressive Movement has faced criticism of late for its proposal to borrow $129.8 million over the next year. Much of that money will go for the construction of schools, a government office building and several new measures to enhance public safety.

But Mr. Anglin, who has been sceptical of the borrowing plan, said the ruling party should have an eye to cutting its operating expenses as well.

‘The cry has been heard for decades…about the growth in the civil service,’ he said. ‘I do not know how much longer this country can support this kind of growth in expenses.’

Bodden Town representative and member of the government back bench Osbourne Bodden said the opposition needed to clarify its mind on which way it wanted government to go.

‘On one hand they’re saying you need to do, and you need to do fast,’ Mr. Bodden said. ‘And on the other hand they’re saying you don’t need the money to do it.’

Mr. Bodden said cash balances in the proposed budget as of 1 July will be equivalent to 75 days of government expenditure, as is required by law.

‘There is nothing untoward or reckless about the budget we have before us,’ he said.

Mr. Anglin disagreed.

‘Governments are notoriously good at finding ways to spend money, and notoriously bad at finding ways to save money,’ Mr. Anglin said. ‘We see a picture here that is not a good one, not a healthy one.’

He pointed out two specific government policies, which he said would increase yearly operating costs.

The first involves amendments to the Public Service Law that took effect 1 January. The changes give chief officers of government departments far more control over hiring and firing their employees.

Government hires were previously approved or denied by an appointed board called the Public Service Commission.

Mr. Anglin said the decentralisation plan would result in every department having to hire its own human resources staff.

The second issue raised by Mr. Anglin involved the Public Finance Law, which he said would similarly require various departments to get more accounting help.

‘When we look at what is going to be the long term effect of that bill, I do not believe that is the direction we want to go,’ he said.

Mr. Anglin said it was time for government to look at the potential for privatising some of the services it provides as a way to cut costs.

Mr. Bodden said the operating budget was the largest in the country’s history, but he said improvements being made to Cayman’s education system in particular were worth it.

‘You may not reap the benefits right away, but down the road is a country we’re going to be proud of, and a country that’s more able to control its own destiny,’ Mr. Bodden said.

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