Constitutional review: $2.3M

Cayman Islands lawmakers tacked on another $495,000 in spending toward the end of the last budget year for the Constitutional Review Secretariat, according to a supplemental funding request.

The increase means government spent just under $1.3 million on the constitutional review process during the 2007-08 financial year, and will have spent approximately $2.3 million in total by the end of the current year if the entire amount of the approved budget is used.

The issue is a sore subject with Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush.

‘The ruling People’s Progressive Movement administration constitutional machinery was coordinated by a government-appointed constitutional secretariat, who reported directly to the Leader of Government Business,’ Mr. Bush said at last Monday’s opening of constitutional negotiations with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. ‘In my opinion, the secretariat…is merely an instrument to advance government’s position.’

‘The opposition was afforded no assistance in the form of developing or promoting our proposals.’

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said earlier in the year that his party had asked Mr. Bush to submit a formal request for funding from the Constitutional Review Secretariat.

Mr. Tibbetts also denied that the secretariat was being used to ‘advance government’s position,’ but rather to educate the public about constitutional change through a series of public meetings and advertisements on broadcast and newsprint outlets.

The figure for the secretariat’s budget increased from $600,000 at the beginning of the 2007-08 fiscal year to $1.3 million with this last request for supplemental funding. Mr. Tibbetts was asked earlier in the year by opposition party members precisely what the money was being spent on.

‘It involves print media, television, and it involves radio, as well as the hosting of planned public meetings,’ Mr. Tibbetts said during a May finance committee hearing. ‘There’s nothing that is specific and new, there is just an increased value.’

The government has never released a breakdown of the secretariat’s spending per project. Requests for comment from the secretariat about the latest additional funding request went unanswered.

‘The government has used their inherent advantage of control of the government’s purse to propagate their positions, including contracting with a local newspaper publisher to provide a public relation(s) appeal,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘No similar benefit was afforded for the opposition.’

Government ministers have said money for advertising spent by the secretariat was spread around to various agencies, and denied contracts were specifically given to one agency in favour of another.

Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said Mr. Bush’s allegations that the government had spent ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ on a deal with the public relations consulting firm MCM was ‘complete and utter nonsense.’

Cabinet Secretary Orrett Connor, who is overseeing the secretariat, said at the time that he was aware of a PR proposal from MCM that ‘went into the $300,000 range’ but said that amount wasn’t even taken into consideration.