Editorial for 11 August: Nation building or patronage?

 

The auditor general’s office has announced
its intention to review $7.1 million in special public spending during the past
two years. 

While the government says the spending was
for ‘nation building’ initiatives, others see it as patronage spending. Whether
that will be a focus of the auditor general’s efforts, we don’t know, but we do
agree that the national building spending needs a careful review. 

Part of that spending includes $4.1 million
given to local churches for various construction and facilities improvements
and community programmes. Two churches alone received more than $1 million
each, including the West Bay church attended by Premier McKeeva Bush.   

There is no doubt that Cayman’s churches do
very good things for the community and that the government should support the
churches when it can. But these grants bring up important questions that need
answering, such as how were the grant recipients chosen; did all churches have
an equal opportunity for the funding; what precisely will the money be used
for; what systems are in place to ensure the money was used for the purposes
given; and why were some grants inordinate in amount in relation to the others. 

Although the Cayman Islands is undoubtedly
a Christian-based society, there are many citizens here that feel the churches
already wield too much power and that there should be a wider separation of
church and state. Giving large sums of money to churches, apparently
unconditionally and without due process, takes Cayman down a dangerous path
that only narrows that separation.  

All of the nation building spending could
be completely legitimate and warranted, but the truth is the public just
doesn’t know. In absence of facts, rumours abound that there were some less
than noble motives for the spending, which throw both the government and the
recipient into a bad light. 

The government should be conducting its
business in a transparent and systematic way that avoids any appearance of
arbitrary patronage. Since that hasn’t happened, the auditor general is going
to step in and review the spending. This is a process the government will not
like, but it really only has itself to blame. 

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