Premier: Government to fix budget for salaries

During a Legislative Assembly address
that ran past midnight Friday, Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush revealed his
plans to limit civil service spending in the next budget year – which begins 1
July.

The Premier said the elected
government has agreed to give Governor Duncan Taylor a set amount within the
budget proposal – the amount was not specified by Mr. Bush – to spend on personnel
costs.

“His Excellency the Governor will
meet with the civil service to devise solutions to achieve that target,” Mr.
Bush told assembly members.

Personnel costs in last year’s
central government budget were approximately CI $250 million.

As far as where and how civil
service jobs, salaries, health care and pension benefits should be reduced,
Premier Bush said he would largely leave that up to Mr. Taylor and Deputy
Governor Donovan Ebanks.

Mr. Bush said he does agree that
reductions in salaries, benefits and even jobs should be considered by the civil
service. However, he said those steps should be taken in a compassionate manner
– if necessary.

“We believe that this should be
achieved via the divestment of various authorities and government agencies, and
by the recommended restructuring of government departments,” Mr. Bush said.

The recently completed Miller
Commission report was officially made public in the assembly early Friday
morning, although it had previously been available on government’s main website
for more than a week.

It recommended the restructuring of
six separate government agencies, as well as the divestment or sale of numerous
government-owned agencies or assets, including Cayman Airways, Owen Roberts
Airport, the government
office accommodation project, and the sewerage system.

Among the agencies the report said
should be restructured, i.e. outsourced or sold, were the Department of
Tourism, Computer Services, the National Pensions Office, and Radio Cayman.
 

Mr. Bush said he agreed with many
recommendations in the report, but cautioned that he would not necessarily seek to
privatise or divest certain government assets simply because the Miller
Commission said government should do so.

“This government will only embark
on divestment initiatives that make sense and it is our intention to ensure
that where it makes sense…we will keep those,” he said.

Opposition lawmakers said they were
confused regarding Mr. Bush’s previous comments – that he would not seek to
divest the $85 million government office building in George Town – based on what the Premier said
Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Bush did state Thursday that
any divestment of the government office accommodation project could not be done
within this budget year, and reiterated that he would not agree to any proposal
where government did not retain eventual ownership of the office building.

“I am not clear now on what it is
the government intends to do with this building,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

Mr. McLaughlin said the ruling
government had not articulated any clear plan on budget management and was
simply moving “from panic, to panic, to panic” in attempting to resolve budget
issues.

He denied that opposition party
members were against the divestment of any and all government assets.

“One big drain on government is
Boatswain’s Beach (tourism attraction),” he said. “It’s costing us between $10
million and $12 million a year to run it.”

Mr. Bush said government has
previously indicated it would agree to sell Boatswain’s Beach to the right
buyer.

Please read more on this story in
Monday’s Caymanian Compass…

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