Uncertain if Britain will accept new fiscal framework bill
Opposition party and independent lawmakers said Wednesday that they were not satisfied with a revised bill presented to the Legislative Assembly, as Cayman Islands officials struggled to make good on fiscal framework requirements set out by the United Kingdom.
“We need to stop playing Russian roulette with the United Kingdom government because at some stage the loaded chamber is going to roll to the top,” said East End Member of the Legislative Assembly Arden McLean. “The only ones who will get hurt as a result of that loaded chamber being snapped upon is the people of this country.”
Premier McKeeva Bush on Wednesday presented a revised amendment bill to the House that incorporated most of the provisions set out in the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility, which Mr. Bush and UK officials signed late last year. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office also required that the document be passed into law by September, but that didn’t occur due to protracted budget negotiations this year.
The framework agreement requires certain procedures for financial management, public borrowing and public project bidding processes to be followed by the Cayman Islands government. If those steps are not taken, the UK Secretary of State can intervene.
An amendment bill presented to the LA on Monday by Mr. Bush did not follow all of the dictates in the original framework document and invented some new provisions, including one that required the UK to compensate Cayman for any reputational or financial damage that occurred because of the framework’s implementation.
That bill was withdrawn Tuesday by Mr. Bush and replaced by a revised bill made public in the LA on Wednesday.
The revised bill did not contain any of the earlier additions made by the local government to the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility. However, it also did not include an entire section of the original framework agreement that dealt with proper public project procurement or bidding processes.
“It does not appear to us that the bill complies with the requirements of the United Kingdom government, which is to incorporate the terms of the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility into a revised Public Management and Finance Law,” said Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin. “We continue to have grave concerns about the bill as it has been presented.”
It was not immediately clear whether the UK would accept the revised version of the amendment bill. However, Premier Bush told lawmakers that procurement provisions contained in the fiscal framework agreement would be placed into the regulations attached to the Public Management and Finance Law. Mr. Bush distributed the draft regulations to legislators on Wednesday.
North Side MLA Ezzard Miller said the newly revised amendment bill had placed lawmakers in an “uncomfortable position”, since they weren’t sure if voting for the new bill would cause Cayman to run afoul of the UK again.
“It is the full Framework for Fiscal Responsibility as dictated by the United Kingdom,” Premier Bush said Wednesday.
“I do not take at all the assurances that are given by the premier,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I’ve had just too many unpleasant experiences when it came to relying on what was said by him in this house or elsewhere.”
Mr. McLaughlin questioned whether Premier Bush was paying enough attention to the affairs of the territory during the opposition leader’s debate on the amendments to the Public Management and Finance Law, making reference to Mr. Bush’s recent overseas travels.
The opposition leader said it appeared that no response was given to UK Overseas Territories Minister Mark Simmonds, who sent a letter to the Cayman Islands government on 1 October regarding the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility’s implementation.
The Premier’s Office later produced a letter dated 30 October wherein Mr. Bush responded to Minister Simmonds, but the UK indicated that had not been received by 2 November when Mr. Simmonds sent another communication to the premier regarding the fiscal framework agreement.
Mr. McLaughlin also noted a recent report in the Caymanian Compass that quoted Mr. Bush as saying government was still in discussions with regard to the collection of deferred duty payments totalling some $6 million from the receivership companies formerly controlled by Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman hotel developer Michael Ryan. Representatives for the hotel property’s new owners said they were aware of no such discussions and had actually attempted to contact Mr. Bush about the deferred stamp duty issue several times prior to the hotel property being sold at auction on 31 October. The company never received any response, according to a statement issued earlier this week.
“The premier is plainly not paying sufficient attention to the affairs of this country and that is why … we are constantly finding ourselves is these types of crises,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Mr. Bush previously responded to criticisms that he has spent too much time away from the Islands in recent months. In particular, recent trips to Greenland the far east have led to much public discussion.
“Every government must travel to conduct business,” Mr. Bush said. “Whether it’s a lot of travel or little, all depends on the business that has to be conducted. My travels and that of the deputy premier don’t normally overlap; however, this time it could not be avoided because of the nature of the meetings, hers for postal matters and mine for finance, both of which had agendas which were set by the international bodies, each in their very different but significant areas of responsibility.
“Cayman’s ability to do business in the global arena is positively affected by us being seen to effectively maintain our international good governance and regulatory obligations.”