Time running short on CI budget

Opposition: ‘Why is there always a crisis?’

The Cayman Islands government is running out of time to present its spending plan for the budget year that begins 
on 1 July.  

Premier McKeeva Bush, who is also the territory’s finance minister, has pledged a “zero deficit and zero surplus” budget for central government to end the current year on 30 June. Earlier this year, the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee approved an additional $49.1 million in spending just a few months ahead of 
fiscal year’s end.  

However, few public indications have been given regarding what the upcoming year’s spending plan will include. Neither has Mr. Bush’s administration said when the next spending proposal will be presented to the LA. If the document is presented on 15 June, this Friday, that would give lawmakers just nine working days to review it in public sessions of the assembly and finance committee.  

Contacted for comment last week, Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson declined to make any statements. Deputy Governor Franz Manderson also declined to make any public statements regarding the upcoming spending plan.  

If a budget proposal is not approved by 30 June, the Cayman Islands government will have no legal authority to spend money as of 1 July when the new budget year starts.  

Last minute government budgets have become somewhat commonplace in recent years. In 2010, government presented its spending plan to the House on 15 June. A year later, Premier Bush gave his budget address to the legislature on 13 June, but the actual documents weren’t tabled in the LA until the following week.  

Premier Bush faces the additional hurdle of having to consult with the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office prior to presenting his government’s fiscal plans to the assembly. The UK was given greater control over Cayman’s finances after the 2008/09 budget year when the territory fell afoul of at least three principles of responsible financial management set forth in the Public Management and Finance Law. In simple terms, Cayman had too much debt compared to its revenues and didn’t have enough money in the bank.  

Since then, the United Kingdom has forbidden Cayman to borrow additional funds for capital [construction] projects, unless certain special circumstances are met. That ban began during the 2010/11 year and was extended in the UK’s three-year plan for Cayman to the upcoming 2012/13 year.  

Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin said that, prior to the 2009/10 fiscal year, government budgets had to be presented to the Legislative Assembly by 1 May. However, he said the current government amended the Public Management and Finance Law to state that the budget could be presented at any date prior to 1 July in any given year.  

“The objective [of the old law] was to give sufficient time for debate and review,” Mr. McLaughlin said.  

In the last couple of years, Mr. McLaughlin said the budget process – particularly the review in finance committee where lawmakers go through each budget line item – has been hurried under deadline pressure.  

“When you are in the house until 11 or 12 o’clock at night, you don’t get the best out of MLAs or witnesses,” he said. “We don’t get the same kind of analysis of the budget that we would like and keeping civil servants until midnight is not what we want to do. 

“Why is everything always last minute?”  

Legislative Assembly Public Accounts Committee Chairman Moses Kirkconnell scheduled a meeting of his five-member group to review three recent reports from the auditor general’s office on Wednesday. Mr. Kirkconnell said, with that date fixed, he doubted that any LA meeting would be called before this Friday, 15 June.  

“But I’ve heard nothing about a date for the budget,” Mr. Kirkconnell said. “Let me know if you hear anything, will you?”  

Premier Bush has frequently blamed the former government – led by several members now in the opposition party – for the financial situation Cayman now finds itself in. Mr. Bush said the previous government ended office with an $81 million budget deficit – meaning government revenues were $81 million lower than spending.  

“[The UK] now control our budget for the first time in 181 years,” Mr. Bush wrote in a statement sent to the Caymanian Compass in late April. “Thanks [Opposition Leader] Alden [McLaughlin], thanks [East End MLA] Arden {McLean], thanks Tony [referring to Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden], and thanks [George Town MLA] Kurt [Tibbetts]. What a sterling contribution to our sovereignty, to the forward process of the Cayman Islands.” 

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