Opposition says budget debate rushed

Cayman Islands opposition party
lawmakers grew visibly frustrated as an all-night finance committee session
dragged on into Tuesday morning and government rushed to get its spending plan
approved before the legally mandated 30 June deadline.

“I feel like a horse in a horse
race with blinders on,” said East End MLA Arden McLean late Monday. “You’re
truncating me.”

The finance committee debate, which
began early Monday afternoon, had gone past midnight and two government
ministries – those responsible for public housing and education – went through
their budget reviews with no staff on hand to help their respective ministers
answer questions.

“I must object in the strongest of
terms to you (referring to Finance Committee Chairman, Premier McKeeva Bush)
trying to do these things without the parties responsible for the
administration of them being present,” Mr. McLean raged.

“You are simply doing it to
truncate the opposition,” Mr. McLean added.

Mr. Bush – chairing his first
finance committee as ordered under Cayman’s new Constitution – said he had not
prevented any committee members from asking questions during the nearly 10-hour
debate.

“I did not abuse any privilege,”
Mr. Bush said. “There’s nobody trying to truncate you (referring to Mr.
McLean).”

Mr. McLean denied that and said he
was deliberately ignored when he attempted to ask questions about more than $4
million that is going to a “nation-building fund” for local church activities
in the upcoming budget.

“You’ve been deceptive,” the East
End representative said to Mr. Bush.

The premier responded that he had
asked several times if anyone wanted to ask questions about the item and no one
from the opposition party bench had spoken.

“If you’re going to stay here until
midnight, you better wake up,” the premier said to Mr. McLean.

Mr. Bush pointed out that Cayman is
on a very tight time line indeed if it wishes to have money to spend as of 1
July, the start of the new budget year.

Not only do lawmakers have to
finish the finance committee review and vote on the budget, Legislative
Assembly staff members are required to prepare a report and documentation must
be presented to Governor Duncan Taylor for approval.

As of 23 June, lawmakers have a
week to accomplish everything. Mr. Bush said there are also a number of
legislative initiatives that must be considered.

“If we had a normal time I would
not have proceeded like this,” the premier said. “We are against time and I do
not want to break the law.” 

With matters droning on late into
the night both independent MLA Ezzard Miller and Opposition Leader Kurt
Tibbetts had departed by the time the Health and Community Affairs ministry
budgets were being considered. Only Mr. McLean and Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden
were left on the opposition bench by the end.

George Town MLA Alden McLaughlin
was in Florida for surgery on a ruptured tendon in his bicep and was unable to
attend the proceedings.

All members of the ruling
government were present for the majority of the finance committee debate.