Lawmakers argue Brac relief

$10M funding proposal voted down

An emotional Legislative Assembly debate over how best to provide funding to rebuild Cayman Brac homes and businesses ended last week in lawmakers voting down an amendment to provide an immediate $10 million for reconstruction efforts.

The amendment was sought by opposition lawmakers for inclusion in a government motion which aimed to support guaranteed loans through the Cayman Islands Civil Service Association Co-operative Credit Union Limited for Cayman Brac homeowners.

The loans would include interest-free payment plans which could be deferred up to five years after they are given out.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said during the house debate that some $2 million for Brac rebuilding has already been set aside by government and that more will be appropriated as needed in the future.

‘There is no limit, it is simply an on-going process,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.

However, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush accused Mr. Tibbetts’ government of trying to piece-meal the reconstruction process rather than providing the immediate funding necessary for Brac rebuilding.

‘You can’t sit down and do it in drips and drabs…so that every time they have to give $1,000 it will be in the papers,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘That’s what they (referring to the ruling government) are waiting for.’

Mr. Tibbetts said government was merely trying to manage the reconstruction process in an orderly and responsible manner.

‘We’re still not certain how swiftly the money can be used,’ he said. ‘We don’t want (unscrupulous contracting) to be happening in Cayman Brac and we don’t want to be making it happen.’

Tourism Minister Charles Clifford accused Mr. Bush and Sister Islands MLA Julianna O’Connor-Connolly of politicking with the reconstruction funding issue.

‘It is most unfortunate that the plight of the people of Cayman Brac is used to play politics,’ Mr. Clifford said, adding that government’s handling of the rebuilding efforts would have the same result as putting $10 million up front.

Mr. Tibbetts said during the house debate that a committee had been created, consisting of government officials and elected members from Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, to oversee the distribution of relief funds which would again be administered through the National Recovery Fund.

However, when questioned by Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly, Mr. Tibbetts admitted that he was not aware if the committee had ever met.

Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly had earlier made an impassioned plea before the Legislative Assembly about the plight of Cayman Brackers following the passing of Hurricane Paloma. The 8 November storm destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes on the Sister Islands and repair costs have been estimated in the $20 million range.

‘Every day it rains, it gets worse and worse and it costs government more and more,’ Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly said, speaking in the house dressed in denim and a T-shirt after arriving unexpectedly on a mercy flight from Cayman Brac earlier in the day. ‘They said we have a 90 day (budget) reserve. A reserve for what? Are we on Cayman Brac going to fall through the gap one more time?’

Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly also accused the ruling government members of playing politics with relief effort.

Mr. Bush later called Mr. Tibbetts statements about managing relief money to avoid unscrupulous contracting ‘a lame excuse’ and said government was only in its current position with relief funding because insurance payments from the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility hadn’t come through.

The Cayman Islands has been paying US $2 million a year in premiums to that fund, which is supposed to provide emergency cash in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane or earthquake. However, fund administrators have informed government that no payment will be made for Paloma since the damage to Cayman Brac has a relatively minimal effect on the Cayman Islands overall economy.

‘(Cayman Brac residents) should not suffer because the government subscribed to the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance fund because they misunderstood how the policy worked,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘This Legislative Assembly and the entire Cayman community was misled to believe the money would be made available…within 14 days.’

Mr. Tibbetts has said government will be meeting further with fund representatives and considering other options, including setting up a separate relief fund for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. He stressed that there would be no affect on storm reconstruction results in any case.

‘Anyone looking at it objectively can understand there is no difference in the way government is handling it,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.

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