Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin used the first part of debate on the budget to lash out at the media and defend the government’s capital spending plans.
Mr. McLaughlin complained about the Caymanian Compass poll results story in last Wednesday’s newspaper, which he suggested proceeded on the premise that the government was operating on the basis of deficit budgeting.
The poll question asked respondents how they believed government should make up for the expected revenue shortfall it had announced several weeks earlier. The results of the poll showed the largest segment of respondents agreed with the government’s approach to spend less on projects.
‘A prominent member of civil society said to me that he is struggling… to understand the seeming preoccupation which Cayman, and particularly the press, have with bad news, to the point where they will make it up if it is not so,’ he said.
Mr. McLaughlin said the press, which was criticising the government at every turn, ought to remember ‘the dark days when their members were thrown out of press conferences’.
‘That is the kind of environment, which has been quickly forgotten is this apparent new love affair that is developing between the media and the Leader of the Opposition.’
Mr. McLaughlin also criticised Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush and West Bay MLA Rolston Anglin, who he called ‘the economic guru from West Bay’.
‘In a situation where you have a government that has produced four budgets with operating surpluses, the fact that the Government’s projected revenue is in decline due to global circumstances, how does that become the principle focus of any discussion?’ he asked. ‘Where is the discussion about what the Government has done? When they talk about the Government should reduce its projects or push its projects back… that is exactly what we have done.’
Mr. McLaughlin spoke about criticism he has received concerning the tendering of the three new high schools.
‘The Leader of the Opposition talks about me giving contracts for the site preparation works at the schools to my friends,’ he said. ‘This man, who has never ever darkened the door of the [Central Tenders Committee]… he does not believe in the Central Tenders Committee process.
‘You can ask any member of the Central Tenders Committee – every single project that requires CTC approval from my Ministry, and I believe, from this Government, has gone to CTC. You ask any member there, whether Alden McLaughlin spoke to any of them and suggested to them that anyone or any company was awarded anything.’
Mr. McLaughlin also criticised Mr. Bush and Cayman Brac MLA Julianna O’Connor-Connolly for not offering any suggestions in their contributions to the budget debate, saying he ‘heard not one shred of anything useful’ from either of them.
‘The Leader of the Opposition says that we are spending too much money,’ he said. ‘You know what his proposals are – to build an oil refinery. What is he going to do that with?
‘He also says we should go back to his old plan and build a port up at High Rock and an airport up there. What is he going to build those with – goodwill and promises?
‘He ought to be ashamed of himself. Twenty-four long years and he comes to the House… and does nothing but to say ‘I told you so’. I told you what? I told you that there was going to be a global slowdown? Duh! We couldn’t figure that one out. Thank you for the advice, sir.’
Mr. McLaughlin disagreed with suggestions from Mr. Anglin and the Opposition that the right thing to do when there is a slowdown in the global economy would be to cut civil service jobs and shrink the government financial injection into Cayman’s economy.
‘The Government has taken a conscious decision to go ahead with major capital projects at this time, at least in part because it is the right thing to do from an economic standpoint,’ he said, adding the government had been advised it was affordable.
‘It meets all of the standards, even the very exacting standards of the UK in terms of debt-service ratios,’ he said. ‘So, at one of [Opposition’s] press briefings or mouthing offs on one of the radio shows, I hope they can explain to the country how it is that they expect things to improve if civil servants are out of jobs and if there is less money circulating in the local economy.’