Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson told Cayman Islands civil servants Thursday evening that an operating deficit of CI $132 million was possible by next June if no cuts were made in government’s current spending plans and revenues continued to fall.
‘We don’t have the cash to cover that gap,’ Mr. Jefferson said.
Civil servants have been warned since early this year that budget cutbacks would be needed for the government to stay afloat. Ideas such as layoffs, salary reductions and a shortened work week have been discussed.
However, the more than 600 government workers who attended a meeting at George Hicks High School campus took heart from another statement by the financial secretary.
‘The government’s position is that they’re not going to reduce basic salary, basic wages,’ Mr. Jefferson said following Thursday’s meeting. ‘They’re not going to actively attempt to remove persons who are in a job, Caymanian or otherwise.’
However, Mr. Jefferson said government workers whose contracts have come to an end would be closely scrutinised by chief officers in ministries and government portfolios.
‘The departments will need to consider whether it is necessary to keep that person,’ Mr. Jefferson said. ‘But it’s not saying ‘ye shall not fill a vacancy.”
Some government departments had already received word this week that contracts would need to be approved by chief officers in various ministries with responsibility for their operations. Generally, department heads have control over hiring and firing under current civil service law.
Governor Stuart Jack, who also spoke to the group of civil servants Thursday, said the government was legally bound to honour current contracts. He said they were looking to their workers to provide ideas on where and how budget savings might be achieved.
‘It was a very constructive attitude at the meeting,’ Mr. Jack said.
The governor said he did ‘not want to go down the road’ of debating whether non-Caymanian civil servants should be let go before their Caymanian counterparts.
‘Obviously, people for whom the Cayman Islands are their permanent home, we have to consider them first and foremost,’ Mr. Jack said.
Civil Service Association President James Watler said his group did not want to see an ‘us versus them’ attitude adopted within the civil service and said he was determined to present a united front to government.
‘We’re not going to differentiate between the sheep and the goats,’ Mr. Watler said.
There were no specific plans to cut the budget made by the governor, Mr. Jefferson, or Chief Secretary Donovan Ebanks, who also attended the meeting.
The final decision, according to Governor Jack, would have to be made by Cabinet and the Legislative Assembly.
‘The reality is that the elected government control the money,’ Mr. Jack said. ‘They are the ones that have to take hard decisions.’
No MLAs or elected Cabinet ministers were seen at Thursday’s meeting.
Please see Monday’s Caymanian Compass for much more on this story.