After a week-long debate in which Government and Opposition politicians took swipes at each other’s track records in running the country, the Legislative Assembly passed a motion to approve pre-budget Strategic Policy Statement last Wednesday.
The wide-ranging SPS debate touched on the ongoing Met investigation; missing former UCCI president Hassan Syed; the Caribbean Utility Company’s new licence; radio talk show host and political candidate Ellio Solomon; and a myriad of other seemingly unrelated topics.
The SPS, titled this year ‘Stay the course in challenging times’, focuses on the financials of the current fiscal year, and makes estimates for the coming three years, was passed by nine votes to one.
The sole nay vote was cast by Rolston Anglin, the only Opposition member in the House at the time of the vote.
The debate, one of the last major parliamentary debates prior to May’s general election, gave members an opportunity to run through their achievements as elected parliamentarians, to criticise each other’s parties and set records straight.
A number of government ministers and MLAs used the debate to demand the removal of the man heading the London Metropolitan Police corruption investigation, Martin Bridger, calling for him to be replaced.
Minister Arden McLean told the Legislative Assembly that he believed the investigation could cost the country as much as $10 million.
Mr. McLean said: ‘There is a need to look objectively, comprehensibly, at this investigation that continues to drain the coffers of this country. I suspect it is going to be over $5 million by the time this investigation is finished. I would not be surprised if it is closer to $10 million.’
When Speaker of the House Edna Moyle asked the relevance of that part of Mr. McLean’s speech to the SPS, he replied that the money spent on the investigation, which must be paid by the government, could have been better spent in other areas, such as education.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts had revealed in his speech supporting the SPS on 10 December that the construction of two new schools in Grand Cayman would be shelved due to financial constraints.
The outrage of some speakers at the Met investigation segued into the country’s necessity for a new constitution that would curtail the power of the Governor to implement without consulting the government on such an investigation.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush used the debate to try to table a copy of a draft constitution drawn up by the UK following talks between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials and a delegation from Cayman. He was prevented from doing so by the Speaker who said that because the document was confidential, it could not be tabled.
The state of education, and what both sides of the political spectrum had done for it while in power, played another major role in the debate.
The government’s plan not to press ahead with the Beulah Smith High School in West Bay and George Town Primary School was met with scorn by the Opposition.
When Minister McLaughlin described George Town Primary School as the best primary school on the island, despite the state of its infrastructure, the Opposition claimed this proved that the tens of millions of dollars earmarked for new school projects were unnecessary.
Opposition MLA Capt. Eugene Ebanks insisted ‘This proves what we have been saying all along, that we don’t need to spend $60 million in order to create a better educational system. We don’t need monuments; we need better-paid teachers, a better curriculum that is relevant, and better overall education strategy.
Mr. Tibbetts insisted that despite the delay in starting construction on the two schools, the transformation of the education system was under way and would continue over the next three years.
Alden McLaughlin defended his record as Minister of Education and accused the Opposition of fighting him ‘every step of the way’ as he tried to improve the education system and create new physical schools on the island.
Accusations by Opposition members that the government had done nothing in their three and a half years in office were rebuffed by MLA Lucille Seymour, who said residents and visitors had merely to look at the state of Cayman in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan to see how much had been achieved and how much work had been done.
The global economic crisis and Cayman’s readiness and responsiveness to it was repeatedly touched upon during the debate.
One person who loomed relatively large in the debate was incoming US president Barack Obama, whose name was mentioned at least 10 times by various MLAs and ministers in their speeches.
In his opening speech on the SPS, Mr. Tibbetts when speaking about the global economy, said: ‘At least, there seems to be a glimmer of hope on the gloomy global economic horizon. It is the optimism which the election of Barack Obama as US president, has generated around the world. His victory is seen as an opportunity for the world to change for the better.’