Opposition MLA Cline Glidden Jr. questioned the validity of the findings of the National Assessment of Living Conditions during his contribution to the budget debate Wednesday.
Mr. Glidden also criticised the way Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts suggested the findings contradicted statements made by Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush concerning the state of Cayman’s economy.
The NALC report set the poverty line at CI$3,983 per annum, which amounts to $10.90 per day. The amount of that allocated for a food was $1.83 per day.
‘That number is not realistic,’ Mr. Glidden said, noting that Mr. Tibbetts and the rest of the government must realise the figure was not realistic in Cayman.
‘What surprises me is the Leader of Government Business would use the information [in the NALC report] to criticise the Leader of the Opposition.’
In announcing the findings of the NALC study last week, Mr. Tibbetts said the results were in sharp contrast with the doom and gloom picture of living conditions painted by Mr. Bush in his budget debate.
‘There was a deliberate attempt, for obvious political reasons, to convey the impression that life here was a living hell. The NALC study confounds the jaundiced perspective of the Leader of the Opposition,’ Mr. Tibbetts said in his address to the House.
Mr. Glidden said he looked up statistics at the United States Department of Health and Human Services and found that in 2007, the poverty line for the 48 contiguous states was set at US$10,210 for a single person in a household. He noted that since almost all consumer goods are imported to Cayman, they are even more expensive here.
‘Yet lo and behold, we’re able to get the poverty level to 1/3 that of the United States,’ he said. ‘What kind of creative math is that?’
Mr. Glidden noted that in Alaska, where consumer goods cost more because of shipping costs, the poverty line was set even higher, at US$12,770. Because of shipping and duty cost to of consumer goods to Cayman, Mr. Glidden suggested the poverty line would have to be at the very least $15,000 in Cayman.
He added that he would have expected the government or Mr. Tibbetts, whose budget speech was themed ‘keeping the faith’ give some reasoning as to how the poverty line could be so low for Cayman.
Although the NALC report found only 1.9 per cent of Cayman’s population was living at or under the poverty line, Mr. Glidden suggested it had to be higher than that.
‘I hope the government is not making a lot of decisions based on [the NALC] report’s math.’
Mr. Glidden responded to comments made by Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin during his debate last week. Mr. McLaughlin criticised Mr. Bush for Boatswain’s Beach losing money because he said it was built on a false premise and without a ‘properly articulated financial strategy’. He suggested changing the name of the tourist attraction to ‘McKeeva’s Folly’.
Mr. Glidden repeated the figures cited by Mr. McLaughlin during his debate, when he rattled off the losses of Boatswain’s Beach. Those losses were $557,841 in 2004; $953,000 in 2005; $4,265,000 in 2006 and $7,672,000 in 2007. Mr. McLaughlin said Boatswain’s Beach’s losses were projected to be $10 million by the end of this year.
Mr. Glidden said he was surprised the government was still trying to blame the Boatswain’s Beach losses on the previous administration three years after assuming office.
‘They say the reason is bad boy McKeeva Bush, who didn’t have a plan in place,’ he said, noting that three years later, the PPM had not come up with a plan to reduce losses.
‘They were so happy to put their name on Boatswain’s Beach, but when it comes to losses, it’s the previous administration,’ he said.
Despite the rising losses since the PPM government took office, Mr. Glidden said they persist in blaming that ‘bad boy from West Bay’.
‘But what worked in 2005, blaming everything on the former Leader of Government Business, that’s not working any more. People aren’t listening to that tale any more.’
Balanced budget illusion
Mr. Glidden spoke about the claims of the Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson and cabinet members concerning the balanced budget.
‘They have been bragging we have a balanced budget, but what does that really prove? What is that to hang your hat on?’
Mr. Glidden said the budgets presented by governments are often just a way of fooling the public ‘to create a balanced budget illusion’.
He used an example of last year when the judiciary needed $1.8 million for legal aid, but because the Opposition wanted to see a report on why the cost was so high for Cayman, only half was allocated in the initial budget. But without the report ever being done, the government came back and added another $900,000 at the end of the year with a supplemental appropriation. Mr. Glidden said the same $900,000 is budgeted in the upcoming financial year, even though the government knows full well it will have to come back and make a supplemental appropriation for an amount the judiciary knows it needs.
‘When at the beginning of the financial year the government says it has a balanced budget, that doesn’t carry a lot of weight or comfort to our people because they know how the system works,’ he said, adding that people must wait until the end of the financial year to make judgments about a budget being balanced or not.’
Mr. Glidden said the government was quick to condemn the opposition for questioning the budget because it was insulting to the financial secretary. He noted that Mr. Jefferson also presented the previous government’s budget, which drew the criticism of the same people who are now praising him.
‘Now [Mr. Jefferson] is a good man, a conservative individual, and the country should have confidence in any budget he presents,’ he said. ‘Back then it was the government’s budget and he was just the messenger.’
Mr. Glidden also raised the point of the Cayman General Insurance Hurricane Ivan settlement, which Mr. McLaughlin said during his debate ‘robbed this country of $70 million in insurance payments that we ought to have had’.
‘[Mr. Jefferson] was one of the people who gave financial projections and advice to the government on that settlement, and the PPM has criticised that decision continually.’