Nearly $4.6 million is earmarked for the Cayman Islands government’s nation building fund in the 2012/13 budget proposed by the ruling United Democratic Party government.
If the United Kingdom does approve the $567 million spending plan, about $2.7 million will be paid out from the fund for scholarships to Caymanian students.
However, other government proposals for community projects – including $15 million to provide solar panels for homes of lower income citizens – got left on the cutting room floor. Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush said UK officials did not support borrowing for the solar panel project, or indeed any borrowing for the Cayman Islands government budget through the 2015/16 fiscal year.
Despite his disappointment over the solar panels programme not being included in the budget, Mr. Bush said the local government agreed with the UK-imposed restraint on borrowing and said that many of the cost-saving measures sought by Britain made good sense.
“I hope you’re going to write now that we’ve given [the UK] some kudos in what we’ve said about them,” Mr. Bush told reporters on Tuesday.
Premier Bush admitted Tuesday that his government had “taken some licks” over the nation building fund programme since its inception in the 2009/10 budget.
According to previous statements by the government, just more than $3 million was spent on the fund in the 2011/12 budget year. Government has said it spent $4.3 million in the 2010/11 year and $2.8 million in the 2009/10 budget year on the nation building fund.
Mr. Bush said Tuesday that his government had budgeted $4.6 million total for the fund in the 2012/13 fiscal year, which began on 1 July. The premier said the fund includes $2.7 million in new and existing scholarships for local students.
“We have other grants for other programmes such as automotive apprenticeship, various community programmes and training programmes,” he said. Government did not provide a specific breakdown of nation building fund allocations for the 2012/13 budget on Tuesday.
Previous spending for nation building projects has 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.
Political opponents have described the nation building fund as a “slush fund” for the UDP government, and have noted that it has been used – among other things – to send flowers to West Bay moms on Mother’s Day. This is a charge Mr. Bush has vigorously denied, even going so far as to state those who opposed funding for the churches were “devil worshippers”.
“We’re building prisons. We just hired 53 more policemen, we beef up our courts … but we mustn’t help our children?” Mr. Bush said Tuesday.
He said the nation building fund scholarships were handled separately from grants already given by the Ministry of Education programme.
“There are some people who don’t qualify for the Ministry of Education scholarships … but we do not throw them away,” he said. “We offer them assistance through what we term the nation building fund.”
Although government’s 2012/13 budget plan does not contain any long-term borrowing, ministers noted there were plans to make use of an “overdraft facility” early on in the budget year to cover costs until the higher-earning revenue months for Cayman kicked in later on in January through April.
Mr. Bush did not state on Tuesday how much of the overdraft facility government intended to use, but he did note that one of the reasons the UK required plans for such a large government surplus during the 2012/13 year was in order to cover the overdraft by year’s end.
Cayman’s entire public sector debt was hovering around $600 million at 30 June, 2012. Government will have to pay more than $30 million each year for at least the next several years in order to retire that debt.