Civil service to have fixed salary budget

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$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
reductions in civil service salaries, benefits, and jobs should be considered.
However, he said those steps – if necessary – should also be taken in a
compassionate manner.

“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
website for more than a week.

Mr. Bush
revealed to assembly members that the report had cost $160,000 to produce, not
$300,000 as had been rumoured.

The report
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, which means 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 newly constructed government office
building in George Town – based on what the premier said Thursday afternoon in
Legislative Assembly.

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,” Opposition
member Alden 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 also 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.

Mr. McLaughlin
said that the financial plan the Cayman Islands Government is operating under is
“a pretend budget” that could never have achieved a balance between what
government was spending and what it was earning.

“The
government has done little to solve this problem,” he said.

Education
Minister Rolston Anglin said Mr. McLaughlin’s comments were coming a bit early
in the election cycle.

“The election campaign for 2013 is well under way,”
Mr. Anglin said. “That’s all this is about.”

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