Budget plan faces general election delay

Cayman Islands lawmakers will postpone deliberations on the upcoming 2009/10 budget until August to make way for the general election scheduled for 20 May.

The move means the government will have to approve an interim expenditure plan to get through the first three months of the new fiscal year, which begins in July.

In the past few years, the budget approval process has started after the governor’s throne speech and government leader’s policy address, which usually are given in late April. This year, government would have been faced with the prospect of debating a spending plan in the midst of an election campaign, and possibly voting on that plan in June with an entirely different set of lawmakers in the Legislative Assembly.

“When you have elections in May, then certainly you won’t be going through a budget in May,” Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said.

Mr. Tibbetts said government will fund its ministries and portfolios based on the current year’s appropriations, essentially taking the equivalent of the 2008/09 year’s expenditure, dividing it by four and appropriating that one-fourth to cover the July, August and September months.

He said this type of interim appropriation is actually nothing new to the Cayman Islands.

“We used to have to do it every election year,” Mr. Tibbetts said.

Up until 2003, the Cayman Islands budget year ran from January to December. With elections being held in November lawmakers found themselves debating a budget not knowing if a new government would be forced to implement the budget policies of outgoing leaders.

The budget year was changed to run from 1 July to 30 June. However, in September of 2004 Hurricane Ivan devastated the Cayman Islands forcing government to postpone the next election until May 2005.

“Which brings it back to the same process you were trying to avoid in the first place,” Mr. Tibbetts said.

Both ruling party and opposition leaders have tried over the past two years to switch the general election dates back to November. However, members of the People’s Progressive Movement and United Democratic Party could not agree on whether those should be held in 2008 or 2009.

November 2009 would have given the PPM an extra six months in office, November 2008 would have cut their four year term short by six months.

Mr. Tibbetts said he preferred to leave the budget process in the current July to June cycle, though he pointed out his party is unable to anticipate what another government might do.

“If we’re here after May, you can ask me then,” he said.