The Cayman Islands Auditor General’s office said Tuesday it plans to review $7.1 million in spending by the ruling government during the past two budget years for ‘nation building’ initiatives.
The Caymanian Compass has reported those initiatives included $4.1 million given to local churches for various construction and facilities improvement, community programmes and enhancements to church buildings’ capacity as hurricane shelters.
Other spending from the nation building fund included $750,000 to redevelop the Pines Retirement Home, $55,000 to refurbish an unidentified private museum, and an undisclosed amount spent on a ‘Premier’s Shield’ award for the senior local spelling bee. In addition, some $380,000 had been spent on a young nation builder’s programme for the benefit of 20 students studying a variety of subjects including music, flight training, human resources, accounts and business and criminal justice.
“I would anticipate the whole nation building fund is an area that we’ll look at,” Acting Auditor General Garnet Harrison said Tuesday. “[The review] would include the churches and the other funds that were given.”
Mr. Harrison said no start date had been set for the review since the auditor’s office had several other projects it was working on and was limited by available resources as are all government departments.
“It’s one we would like to get to this year,” Mr. Harrison said.
It was unclear whether the review would be performed as a straight ‘value-for money’ audit or a more informal public interest report by the auditor general. Typically, government auditors will issue public interest reports on any significant matters that come to their attention during the course of an audit or otherwise.
Premier McKeeva Bush announced that government’s spending on the ‘nation building fund’ during the past two budget years in the Legislative Assembly last week.
“To date, we have provided grants of approximately $4.1 million to about 19 churches,” Mr. Bush said, adding that enhancing the churches’ hurricane shelter capabilities, improving community programmes and outreach to young people represented good value for money in Cayman.
Mr. Bush did not specify which churches had received the money during the 3 August speech to the Legislative Assembly.
Freedom of Information requests made for the specific breakdown of ‘nation building fund’ spending actually identified 18 churches, one outreach ministry program and also the Cayman Islands Ministers Association which had received some cash from the fund between July 2009 and June of this year.
According to the government records, about $2.2 million went to six churches in West Bay, a little more than $1 million went to two churches in the Bodden Town and Frank Sound area, about $765,000 went to 10 churches in George Town, and an additional $125,000 was paid to a church outreach ministry.
The Cayman Islands Minister’s Association received $30,000 from the fund.
The five churches which received the majority of the government funding over the course of two budget years were the Wesleyan Holiness Church in West Bay ($1.3 million), the Church of God, Bodden Town ($1 million), The Chapel Church of God, West Bay ($350,000), the Seventh-day Adventist Church in West Bay ($275,000), and the All Nation United Pentecostal Church in George Town ($175,000).
The funds given to those five churches represents about three-quarters of the $4.16 million given out from the fund over the past two years.
According to records, some of the cash was used for land purchases, other funds are for assisting in building or reconstruction efforts and others were simply defined as ‘grants’.
Last week, Mr. Bush urged lawmakers to consider “beyond the short-term gains they may make by seeking to heap ridicule on our nation-building efforts”.
“Be mindful of where we have come from, and where we might end up, if we’re not careful,” Mr. Bush said.