Nation building controversy swirls again

Ten Cayman Islands churches – although one has since returned its cheque – were granted some financial support from the local government during the current budget year, according to Premier 
Juliana O’Connor-Connolly.  

The grants were made, as in previous years, out of the government’s Nation Building Fund that was approved as part of the 2012/13 budget, which was passed by the Legislative Assembly in late August.  

Premier O’Connor-Connolly confirmed last week that her government has taken the position that it would honour all commitments made in the 2012/13 budget, including those grants approved from the Nation Building Fund. 

However, she also noted that none of the 10 church grants for various projects and community programmes were newly approved since her five-person interim government took over following the ouster of former Premier McKeeva Bush and his United Democratic Party members from government on 18 December.  

“These were commitments that were made, signed and communicated to the various persons before the 18th, 19th of December before we took over,” Ms O’Connor-Connolly said. “We felt that, as a holding government, we were going to keep those commitments for the funds that were there. Any new commitments that came in, we would not be processing them.  

“Can you imagine what the headlines would be as the renowned Christian within the group who attends Red Bay church refused to give the church, after the former premier approved and communicated to them?” 

Although Ms O’Connor-Connolly did discuss some details of $108,000 in nation building grants given to the Church of God Holiness in Red Bay during a Thursday press conference, the details of the other nine churches that received similar grants during the current budget year still had not been released as of press time Sunday.  

The premier did agree all those records for the 2012/13 Nation Building Fund budget should be released. “It is the public funds and the public should know what is happening,” she said.  

 

FOI request  

On 31 January, the Caymanian Compass made an open records request to government seeking a complete listing of all funds spent or budgeted to be spent for the Nation Building Fund – transfer payment No. 52 in the budget – between the 2009/10 and 2012/13 financial years.  

The information for the 2009/10, 2010/11 and 2011/12 financial years was released the next day.  

However, no records for the Nation Building Fund expenditures regarding the current 2012/13 budget year have been released. According to the government’s spending plan for the current year, some $4.5 million was budgeted for Nation Building Fund-related projects.  

The Compass reporter making the open records request asked for the 2012/13 budget records on 1 February. He received no response for 10 days. He then sent an email 11 February following up on the request in which a civil service information manager assured they would “follow up and get back to you” about the request.  

On 6 March, the reporter emailed again asking for an update on the request. No response was received. At this stage, the 30-day time frame for a response under the Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law had passed.  

On 12 March, the reporter emailed again asking for a status update on the request; none was forthcoming.  

On 27 March, nearly two months after the initial request was filed, the reporter again sought clarity on the status of the request. He received the following response: 

“Due to audit queries and the ongoing investigation [this remark left completely unexplained], our accounts department is unable to make this a priority,” the email response from the information manager stated. “We do appreciate your understanding in this regard and is working diligently to provide this information to you as soon as possible.”  

At this point, the Cayman Islands Information Commissioner’s Office advised that given the time that had elapsed, it could be deemed that the government had refused the initial FOI request for the 2012/13 transfer payments to the Nation Building Fund. Given that, the Compass reporter asked for an internal review of the situation. By press time, on 14 April, no information about the Nation Building Fund grants during the 2012/13 budget had been received through the open records request.  

 

Church money  

The controversy that exploded last week over the $108,000 in funds given to the Red Bay church for roof and parking lot repairs, and also for the church band, was largely due to the fact that the general public was unaware this financial assistance had been provided to the church until Premier O’Connor-Connolly announced it during a service there on 7 April.  

Ms O’Connor-Connolly explained the situation with the Red Bay church during Thursday’s press briefing.  

She said the initial funding request was made to then-Premier McKeeva Bush in May 2012. Church officials said their roof was in a “state of disrepair” with water leaking through to the ceiling and that problems with a flood-prone parking lot was making it difficult to attend services when it rained. A grant of $108,000 was approved.  

In addition, rumours of a payment to a church in Cayman Brac began swirling late last week, causing representatives from the Hillside Chapel Church to give back the Nation Building Fund grant they were given.  

Reverend Audley Scott explained in a letter to “all media” last week that a request for $50,000 to repair damage from 2008’s Hurricane Paloma had been sent to then-Premier Bush in February 2012.  

In July 2012, Rev. Scott spoke to Ms O’Connor-Connolly about the matter and was informed in February 2013 that the funding had been approved. On 31 March, a cheque for $50,000 was received, Rev. Scott said.  

However, “because of all the negative publicity and political spin” the church council on 10 April decided to give the money back.  

“Our need is great, but our God is greater,” Rev. Scott said.  

“I do support giving to churches and other organisations within our community,” the premier said Thursday. “If persons want to take political stabs at me, for doing what we thought was right, I apologise if they feel that’s what’s going to make their heart tick.” 

0
0

11 COMMENTS

  1. The Compass Reporter should ask the Information Commissioner for a formal investigation of what has happened under the FOI Law, as at least from what is reported in this article, it looks like at least 2 provisions of the FOI Law were breached – the failure to acknowledge within 10 days and the failure to provide a substantive response within 30 days. There is also no the accounts department is doing other stuff exception to the requirement to comply with the FOI Law. Perhaps the reporter should consider that around election time civil servants come under pressure not to release anything that could embarrass, if that is possible, their political masters. The FOI Law provides that concealing records is a criminal offense and it is only the threat of that or having a formal reprimand on their records that will move some civil servants into complying with the law.

    0

    0
  2. Use of funds to support the church through the Nation Building fund is a good way of supporting the broader community, at the very least government partnership with the building of the Bodden Town multi use church hall should be continued. Planned as Bodden Town Primary hurricane shelter they need to get it finished. If I remember clearly people had to be evacuated from the primary shelter in dump trucks during hurricane Ivan, and the Civic Center is still no place to shelter people right there
    next to the sea. Further’ I would rather spend on churches than on prisons..

    0

    0
  3. What a tangled web we weave, when we ourselves we must deceive. Caymanians for Gods sake please stop it. Please do not bring another cursed Hurricane on this Island again this year because of your thoughtlessness. Do any of you really believe in God? If you do how can you rob him. I can understand if there was a fuss about funds to build something else BUT THE CHURCH? A hurricane Shelter. The photo I am looking at looks like the Hurricane shelter being built in Bodden Town, which is to be used in conjunction with the Church of God. Please ask yourselves if a hurricane come this year where will the people of the District of Bodden Town go. By what I understand, is that the Civic center is being used for the Children Family Services, and the upper floor is also being used by Government to have meetings. Should the people of that district close down the Bodden Town Primary school again for a shelter for four months if there is a hurricane. If there is a hurricane, I believe the people will have to go there finished or not. Ms Juliana you and your Government should be ashamed for foot dragging in doing what was already approved for these funds. Why has the money approved to help the churches and to assist people with fixing their roofs has been held up? Lies, lies and more lies, on top of more excuses. Rev. Scott I cannot say that I approve of you giving back the 50,000. you should not have done so. It shows weakness on your part. The money should have been used to fix the church roof from leaking. As bad as I observe, and listen to the complaints of people about their lives under the poor watch of the Government, I believe what ever government get in during the month of May 2013, is going to have one hell of a problem from people of this country for not letting ago of the National Building Fund. It’s intention was for the people, so why is it that politicians are screaming about it trying to get votes and kicking it all over the Government Administration Building. It is a shame, and I do hope the churches take note of those politicians who were Hell Bent on stopping it.

    0

    0
  4. This whole issue of nation building funds has stunned me. When the story first broke that local churches, a boxer, etc. had been given money from nation building funds, I was simply shocked. Funds like that should be for everyone, not a small group of church goers or some lone athlete who thinks someone owes him something. Nation building funds should go to projects that enhance whole communities…. like a recreation centre, trails, parks, etc. I believe that those responsible for giving out funds in these inappropriate ways are doing nothing but vote buying. It’s very, very wrong. The church that gave back the money did the right thing.

    0

    0
  5. Hunter, you miss the point. Before we can offer government financial support to the community, we have to ensure that it is not just to a selected few of a faith-based organization… but rather to everyone.

    If it was church members contributing to fix the roof top of their church, it wouldn’t be so bad. But the mere fact that those funds come from government, which should be representing all of Cayman, is what is problematic. And many people have the right to complain, including other Christian people who were not part of the deal. Besides where in the Bible do you read God’s church getting support from the secular power? No. The church members supported the church – not the world.

    As for hurricane shelters, government need no faith organization to assist them. There is no need to conjoin a public shelter with a church. That money of 4 million could have been used to assist people without jobs and other government social programs.

    Peace

    0

    0
  6. There are so many churches in Cayman and the Islands, must we assume the Government is going to help all of them, or just certain churches. Is it common to the Caribbean Islands that the Government pay out money to churches????

    0

    0
  7. It simply beggars belief that a Government in the throes of a financial crisis has been handing out susbstantial, unaudited, unaccountable grants to churches. It’s corruption, pure and simple. As I have said repeatedly, if this happened in a real functioning democracy, everyone involved would be facing prosecution.

    0

    0
  8. @needlecase Switzerland

    But the Nation Building / Vote Buying scandal would not be tolerated in any western democracy at all

    0

    0

Comments are closed.