$100 Christmas bonus in January

Indigents, vets, seamen getting money

The government announced late Tuesday it would give an extraordinary Christmas bonus of $100 to each of the ex-servicemen, seamen and indigents receiving ex-gratia or poor relief payments.

The payments, however, will not be sent out until the New Year.

A statement issued by the Ministry of Community Affairs and Housing said the ‘government has dug extremely deep’ to be able to offer the extraordinary Christmas payment.

The statement went on to say the previous People’s Progressive Movement government was partly to blame for the greatly reduced sum, which will be $450 less than those groups received from the PPM administration in 2007 and 2008.

‘Regretfully the wasteful and reckless expenditures of the last government and the downturn in the economy mean that the government cannot provide more at this time’, the announcement stated.

Minister of Community Affairs and Housing Mike Adam said the payments would go directly into each ex-gratia or poor relief recipient’s bank account in the first week of January.

The release also mentioned that the earlier payments had been granted through ‘a supplementary request for funding – meaning that it was not included in the budget for those years. Similarly, this year, an extraordinary Christmas payment for the recipients of these benefits was not included in the ministry’s 2009/10 budget.’

More than 2,000 residents receive ex-gratia or poor relief payments, meaning the bonus for Christmas will cost the government more than $200,000.

Contacted about the matter on Wednesday, Premier McKeeva Bush said the government ‘can’t do any more than that’.

The press release stated: ‘We would like to assure all the recipients of these benefits that the government has their best interests at heart, and is committed to those in need’.

Reaction to the reduced payment was muted.

Vice president of the Cayman Islands Seafarers Association, Hartmann DaCosta, said: ‘It would not be prudent to comment. I’m not saying anything against it or for it. If it was something we could control, it would be a different story.’

The President of the Cayman Islands Veterans’ Association Dale Banks was also reluctant to speak on the matter. He said: ‘I don’t have any comment to make other than to say we are grateful for whatever the government can do for our members.’

However, an individual ex-seaman, Eugene Christian, had a strong opinion on the matter.

‘I think [the $100 payment] is an insult to the integrity of the Cayman Islands seamen,’ he said. ‘What is happening on this Island is that no one has the cojones to speak out.

‘For me it’s not about the money… it’s the continuous insults to the Caymanians who made the Island what it is today.’

Leader of the Opposition Kurt Tibbetts also criticised the government for the low amount of the Christmas bonus.

‘The fact that they did not include it in the 2009/10 budget means that they could not have considered it important enough. With an operational budget of $500 million it is a very lame excuse to blame the previous government on them not allocating out of the budget the funds for that. It’s time that they stood up on their own two feet and take responsibility for their acts.’