Little debate offered on budget

In a departure from the norm, only three members of the Legislative Assembly offered debate contributions to the Governor’s Throne Speech and the proposed new budget.

In addition to Leader of the Opposition Kurt Tibbetts, who spoke on behalf of the People’s Progressive Movement, only independent representative for North Side Ezzard Miller and the Minister of Community Affairs and Housing Mike Adam offered contributions.

Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush spoke at length last week in delivering the policy statement after the governor had given the Throne Speech.

Members of the Legislative Assembly are invited to respond individually to the Throne Speech and budget, and traditionally the majority of members speak at length, many using the whole two hours of their allowed time.

However, as Alden McLaughlin from the PPM explained, this time members chose to go the party political route and let their leaders speak for them.

‘What Mr. Tibbetts presented was the cumulative work of the Opposition. We spent the whole weekend working on that response,’ he said.

Mr. Tibbetts in his speech, which was reported in yesterday’s Compass, queried how realistic the government’s projections in the 2009-2010 budget were.

Mr. McLaughlin said that if members of the UDP had launched an attack on Mr. Tibbetts’ comments, PPM members had been ready and willing to respond. ‘If the government team had gotten up and taken [Mr. Tibbetts] to task… there would have been some pretty robust responses,’ he said.

The UDP took a similar approach. Following Monday’s meeting, General Secretary of the party Ellio Solomon said he and his colleagues had been prepared to speak if individual PPM members had lambasted the government.

Instead, the only UDP member to make a speech Monday was Mr. Adam. Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush delivered his policy address on Friday.

Mr. Adam concentrated on outlining what his portfolio intended to do to improve housing and community issues in Cayman. These included plans for drug rehabilitation for addicts, and facilities and services for the elderly and those with special needs.

He said his ministry would examine foster care programmes and that the Children and Youth Services Foundation would receive funding to provide assistance and programme for youths in its care.

The Foundation would also aim to renovate and enhance safety at Bonaventure Boys Home and the Frances Bodden Girls Home.

Mr. Miller took a more contentious approach, pinpointing elements of the budget about which he said he had concerns.

He pressed the government to abandon the Public Management and Finance Law, which outlines how public accounts are kept, saying it cost hundreds of millions of dollars to implement and Cayman had nothing to show for it ‘other than increased costs, increased bureaucracy, [and] wasted paper’.

He said he hoped to bring a motion to scrap or amend the legislation to ‘get back to proper accounting’.

He put forward other suggestions that he said the government should consider to help it reduce expenditure and raise revenue in the current fiscal crisis, such as reducing the escalating size of the civil service and Cabinet support staff; revamping the insurance industry; and charging $1,000 annual licence fees on all cars worth $50,000.

He called for the government’s insurance company CINICO and non-US affiliated insurance companies to extend coverage to pay for medical care in Cuba, instead of sending patients to Florida.

Citing a surgical procedure on his own shoulder in Cuba, Mr. Miller said: ‘The estimate to repair my shoulder in Florida ranged from $45,000 to $50,000. I took it upon myself to go to Cuba, I had a very successful operation… it cost me out of my pocket $2,275.

‘I believe we have to stop worrying about some of these ultra-conservative people, has-been politicians, wannabe politicians, who worry that if you go to Cuba, somebody will bring Communism back in a suitcase.’

According to Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson in his budget speech, there are 94,221 companies at the General Registry and with annual company fees increasing between $150 and $500, the government could collected CI$17 million a year with these increases.

Mr. Miller queried if the government’s estimates on how much money could be earned by increasing fees and levies on registered companies could be attained because the numbers of companies registering were falling.

After the speeches from the legislators, Mr. Jefferson rose to speak but his speech was cut short by an adjournment and will resume this morning [Wednesday] when the House reconvenes.

A raft of new fees and taxes were introduced in Friday’s budget which will be debated at length by the Finance Committee this week. Leader of Government Business McKeeva warned that members would be expected to work late once the Finance Committee meetings begin.