Premier McKeeva Bush has revealed that during the past two years the government has given $4.1 million to 19 churches from more than $7 million of funds set aside for nation building.
“To date, we have provided grants of approximately $4.1 million to about 19 churches, impacting from West Bay to Cayman Brac; to complete and extend facilities, to augment outreach work, and services such as the much-needed after-school programmes, to build new, and enhance existing structures as hurricane shelters,” Mr. Bush told members of the Legislative Assembly during a meeting last week.
He said enhancing the churches’ hurricane shelter capabilities was good value for the money, as was their outreach programmes for young people. He did not specify which churches received the funding or how much each received.
Mr. Bush, elaborating on how his government’s nation-building fund were spent, outlined details of where more than $5.9 million of the funds went. He had been repeatedly asked to more fully explain how the money was spent at a Finance Committee meeting in June. At that meeting, lawmakers approved slightly more than $3 million in nation building funds for the current 2011/2012 financial year.
In the last financial year, $4.3 million was approved for the fund and in the 2009/10 financial year, $2.8 million was approved – a total of $7.1 million.
Mr. Bush said that, as well as on the churches, funds were also spent on sponsoring a Premier’s Shield for the senior local spelling bee, but did not disclose how much this cost; $25,000 to sponsor catboat building and racing; $55,000 on refurbishing a private museum, which was not named; $750,000 to redevelop the Pines retirement home; and $60,000 to nurture musical and performance talent.
Defending spending more than $4 million to the churches in Cayman, Mr. Bush asked, “What would our society have been like? What, in today’s pressured realities would it be like, were it not for our churches? Where else would we get the enduring ethical guidance that our churches continue to urge upon us?”
He said the value of infrastructure and other support provided to commercial interests in Cayman far outstripped the grants to the churches.
“I urge the members of this honourable house to consider, beyond the short-term gains they may make by seeking to heap ridicule on our nation-building efforts, by seeking to tear it down through speculation and innuendo; be mindful of where we have come from, and where we might end up, if we’re not careful,” he said.
Funds had also been spent on a Young Nation-Builders Programme, with $380,000 issued to 20 students by the end of June.
These students, mostly undergraduates, were studying a variety of subjects, including music (performance), special needs teaching, professional flight training, political science, human resources, culinary studies, accounts and business, and criminal justice.
He outlined a variety of ways in which the nation building fund had been spent, including $10,000 for the Under 19 Girls Football Team, $35,000 to the North Side District Council, $65,000 for hurricane shutters for 13 elderly and needy Caymanians, $75,000 for the Cayman National Cultural Foundation, $365,000 to pay small sub-contractors left out of pocket by the collapse of the Matrix scrap metal contract; and a $17,000 settlement of a long-standing Planning Appeals Tribunal case.
Asked by Leader of the Opposition Alden McLaughlin if the amounts outlined by Mr. Bush in his statement to the Legislative Assembly were a complete accounting of the money spent in the nation building programme, Mr. Bush said the amounts covered the two budget years up to June this year.
The Legislative Assembly is expected to meet again in early September and adjourned “sine dei” – to a date yet to be announced.