Cayman Islands lawmakers on Wednesday debated a budget that was still awaiting approval by the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Members of the Legislative Assembly saw the supporting budget documents for the first time Wednesday afternoon and had just over half an hour to peruse them before the debate began. Premier McKeeva Bush apologised for being unable to get the budget papers to the members earlier.
As Wednesday’s debate got under way, the Cayman Islands government had just nine days left before the interim two-month budget runs out on Friday, 31 August.
Member for East End Arden McLean pressed on Mr. Bush whether the 2012/2013 budget plan had been approved by Henry Bellingham, the UK minister of the Overseas Territories. Mr. Bush responded that the budget included the expenditure sums required by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and had been approved by Cabinet. “It is legal because it has been passed through the Cabinet and is compliant with all the things the UK wanted us to do,” he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the minister had not given his formal approval of the budget.
Mr. McLean, who recently left the People’s Progressive Movement and is now an independent MLA, said it was obvious that Mr. Bellingham had not given the nod for this budget and he registered his “strong objection to this budget being presented to this honourable House and debated and passed into law” and accused the UK and Cayman Islands governments of playing “Russian roulette” in which the people of the Cayman Islands would be the victims.
Describing the presentation of the unapproved 2012/2013 Appropriation Bill, or budget, as unprecedented, Leader of the Opposition Alden McLaughlin, in his response to Premier Bush’s budget address, which was delivered on Monday, said Cayman had suffered “serious reputational damage” due to the current situation.
Mr. McLaughlin said that once the debate was completed and the budget passed in the Legislative Assembly, it was possible that the UK government may instruct the governor not to assent to the budget “on the basis that what is contained therein has not met its approval”. He added: “If that does occur, the government will have no authority to spend any of the money, which is purported to be appropriated under that piece of legislation”.
He said he had been in a quandary as to whether to take part in the debate. “I have concluded, as have my colleagues, that it is my duty as leader of the opposition to do so. I am horrified that we are sending this signal to the country and to the world that Cayman cannot put together a timely budget which meets the approval of the United Kingdom, and I am even more horrified at the prospect of the media attention we must expect if an appropriation bill passed by this house is ultimately not assented to by the governor,” he said. He added that the opposition would not vote on the budget unless they had the assurance that the UK government had given approval to the budget documents.
The leader of the opposition said the only people who would benefit from the proposed budget was Dart or recipients of the nation building fund and that the government’s handling of Cayman’s finance had led to a “crisis of confidence” among the population.
Mr. McLaughlin also blasted Premier Bush for his earlier and now abandoned proposal of imposing income tax on expatriate workers in Cayman, which the opposition leader said had been made without consultation with anyone outside the inner circle of the United Democratic Party.
“The one thing that everyone in Cayman believed was sacrosanct was the line about income tax. Whatever Cayman did, regardless of how crazy they thought the government was, no one believed that Cayman would actually step over that line and that is what occurred and I don’t think the government really gets it.
They’ve said nothing to ameliorate or mitigate the huge error in judgment that they’ve made. It’s remarkable that in a 61-page [budget] address, plus considerable ad-libbing on the part of the premier, he never mentioned the fact that the government had proposed to walk down this dark and dangerous road,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Admitting that the PPM government had made mistakes or omissions during its administration in 2005-2009, on which Premier Bush has blamed the Cayman’s current economic difficulties, Mr. McLaughlin said that all the budgets delivered by the PPM had included surpluses, except for the last one in their term.
Calling the UDP’s budgets during the past four years “Band-Aid approaches” to fundamental problems with the structure of government and “pretend economics”, Mr. McLaughlin said: “This administration has refused to take any action to address what the fundamental and underlying problems are, which result in the kinds of crises which we’ve seen, culminating with the present one.”
The debate, which began at 4.45pm Wednesday, continued until shortly after midnight. Premier Bush was expected to make his response to the issues raised in the debate when the house resumed Thursday morning.