Leader of Opposition McKeeva Bush said last week he has been warning the government for two years about its spending plans.
His comments came after the government announced that it now expects some CI$11 million less revenue in the 2008/09 financial year and that it needed to make budget adjustments accordingly.
‘I told them so and they didn’t listen,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘In 2006, I warned them about this in my budget debate; in 2007, I warned them in my budget debate; and I warned them again this year when I made the motion asking for them to reconsider their borrowing and spending.’
That Private Member’s Motion Mr. Bush referred to was debated and then rejected by the Government on 20 February. At the time, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said that government could not accept the motion ‘even on the kindest of mornings’, partially because it was an insult to Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson and the staff at the Portfolio of Finance and Economics.
‘They said there was no reason whatsoever for them to heed my call and in fact they said my motion was an insult,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘As far as I’m concerned, they have not pulled back enough.’
Pointing to the worsening economic situation in the United States, Mr. Bush said he still believes the government should have cut the budget.
‘They still have an increased budget, which means all the fat is still there,’ he said. ‘They have been most disingenuous with the public.’
Mr. Bush pointed to the government’s denying that its debt would surpass $600 million dollars by the end of the financial year.
‘They’re saying now that the debt isn’t central government, but the fact is it will be nearly $700 million when you factor in all of government’s entities. At the end of the day, the PPM is going to indebt government and its entities to what will be close to US$1 billion by the time you factor in cost overruns on everything they’re doing.’
As one example of unnecessary spending, Mr. Bush pointed to the recent publication of the first edition of Boatswain’s Beach quarterly glossy magazine-style newsletter called Surge. Earlier this year, Boatswain’s Beach management admitted the tourist attraction was losing $500,000 per month.
‘I want to see how much that will help Caymanians and how much it will help the Turtle Farm. It’s not a good use of public funds.’ Mr. Bush said. ‘Every Caymanian already knows about Boatswain’s Beach, for good or for bad. There doesn’t need to be any great expenditure to promote it to Caymanians. What needs to be done is getting cruise passengers down there.’
Mr. Bush took offence to remarks made by Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts during his budget speech in the Legislative Assembly last week, during which he said the UDP ‘had no solutions’ after Hurricane Ivan and that ‘it proved unable to rise to the challenge of recovery and reconstruction’.
‘If Kurt Tibbetts was leader of government business at that time, we’d still be pulling CUC wires from the streets,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘He would have had to appoint committees to get anything done.’
Despite Mr. Tibbetts’ assertions that the PPM government had spent all the money on needed projects, Mr Bush said he did not see it.
‘What have we really got from this government, except for roads, and they haven’t even been all paid for yet,’ he said.
There was a least one thing government should spend more on in Mr. Bush’s opinion., and that is in assistance to the indigent and elderly. Mr. Tibbetts announced last week that the elderly and indigent, as well as seamen and veterans, would receive $50 additional monthly, bringing their relief payments to $550 per month.
‘The impact of the economic downturn is going to hurt them most,’ Mr. Bush said, adding that $50 more per month was not enough.
‘By now they should have been up to $800,’ said Mr. Bush. ‘If I was the leader of government business, it certainly would have been so.’
During his debate on the budget Wednesday – which he titled Too Little, Too Late, Mr. Bush said Cayman’s middle class was being wiped out and businesses are going under.
‘Yet the PPM has now tabled the largest budget in history,’ he said. ‘This budget will not improve the lives of the vast majority – if any at all – of the man on the street.’
Mr. Bush said he believes the PPM is trying to convince people the economy is fine even though it isn’t.
‘If you listen to them, everything is good today, everything is done right, and the Leader of Government Business is saying that Caymanians never had it so good, and any good done is because of them,’ he said. ‘Well, the opposite is true.’
Mr. Bush called the 2008/09 budget presented by the PPM ‘an election budget laden by political rhetoric and absent of proper planning’.
Speaking about the 3.5 per cent raise to civil servants that will be made retroactive to July 2007, Mr. Bush said the PPM had failed to identify where the funds will come from.
‘We agree with a raise for civil servants, because they work hard, but we oppose the way it has been handled by the PPM.’
Mr. Bush said Civil Service already had to cut its programmes to meet $25 million in budget cuts.
‘Surely, having to find another $10 million [to fund the pay raises] will leave them in an untenable situation,’ he said. ‘So once again the PPM has failed to adequately plan for any eventualities such as an economic crisis in which there would be a revenue shortage.’
Mr. Bush said Mr. Tibbetts and the PPM administration were ‘completely out of touch with the realities of the Caymanian economy’.
‘The Leader of Government Business encouraged Caymanians to turn to CNN and BBC to see struggling people around the world,’ he said. ‘I would encourage him and the PPM government to go into our communities and talk to the many Caymanians, who know too well what hardship is through their own struggles.’
‘Caymanians are having it bad, they are worse off now than in any time that I can think of.’
Using the United National ECLAC report that was published after Hurricane Ivan, Mr. Bush pointed to statistics that said at the end of 2001, Cayman’s GDP was $1.482 billion. In 2004, prior to Ivan, the GDP had increased to $1.71 billion, an increase of more than 15 per cent. Government revenues also increased 8.9 per cent over the same time, he said.
Mr. Bush said that contrary to what the UDP did with the economy, the PPM’s policies were going to cause a severe economic slowdown.
‘By the end of this year, the suffering of our people brought about by the PPM policies, will be much worse than it is today.’