Two churches have now decided to give back money received from the Cayman Islands government’s Nation Building Fund due to external criticism, Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said, who referred to “hell”, “brimstone” and “the devil” while describing the situation during a Cabinet news briefing Thursday.
After Cayman Brac’s Hillside Chapel returned $50,000 to the government, leaders of Red Bay Church of God Holiness also decided to return checks totalling more than $108,000. The money to Hillside was to help rebuild the church’s education and fellowship building, while the money to the Red Bay church was to help with the public address system for the Red Bay Gospel Band ($8,105) and to repair the church’s roof and upgrade its flood-prone parking lot ($100,000).
Ms O’Connor-Connolly, who represents the Sister Islands, attends the Red Bay church. She said former Premier McKeeva Bush had appropriately OK’d the nation-building grants to the Brac and Red Bay churches last year, along with eight other churches.
“I make no apologies for assisting churches because Cayman is a Christian community,” she said Thursday.
For the current 2012/13 budget year, the government has dedicated nearly $450,000 to the other eight churches, which include Church of God Frank Sound ($100,000 for church construction), Church of God West Bay ($100,000 for church re-building programme), Seventh Day Adventist Church West Bay ($100,000 for church re-building programme), Church of God Bodden Town ($50,000 for hurricane shelter construction), Fellowship Baptist ($45,000 for church re-building programme and a church bus), Webster Memorial United Church ($18,300 for afterschool programme), First Assembly of God ($15,000 for singing Christmas tree), Countryside Church of God ($9,428.33 for a small bus for the youth group) and St. George’s Anglican Church ($8,750 for church pews).
Nearly $3.4M in 2012/13
The premier’s office provided a list of some $3.4 million in nation-building expenditures for the current budget year to the Caymanian Compass following an open records request.
In addition to the church grants, nearly $2.2 million of government money went to nearly 150 “YNBP scholars” for things such as tuition, stipends, airfare, books and allowances.
Also, nearly $580,000 in expenditures went to some 22 individuals and causes. That includes $120,000 to Cayman Traditional Arts for the “Bringing Heritage to Life” afterschool programme; $79,000 to Superior Auto’s apprenticeship programme; $75,000 to Cayman National Cultural Foundation for the Mind’s Eye/Miss Lassie’s House restoration; $75,000 to the Hope for Today Foundation’s halfway house; $75,000 to Kystar Athletics for the Cayman Invitational track meet; $30,874.50 related to a West Bay boxing gym; and $20,000 to sponsor Reba Dilbert at New Jersey Fashion Week.
The latest records provide a more complete picture of Nation Building Fund expenses from December 2009 to March 2013 (Nation Building Fund 2009-11, Nation Building Fund 2011-12, Nation Building Fund 2012-13), totalling some $12.9 million (including the $158,000 said to be returned by the two churches). Of that, nearly $5.2 million has been given to churches (40 per cent overall), $3.7 million to scholars (29 per cent), and $3.6 million for various grants (28 per cent).
Of the churches, the biggest recipients so far are Wesleyan Holiness Church West Bay ($1.3 million), Church of God Bodden Town ($1.05 million), Church of God West Bay ($550,000), Seventh Day Adventist Church West Bay ($375,000) and Church of God Frank Sound ($225,000).
‘Fear of the Lord’
During the news briefing, Ms O’Connor-Connolly said, “We should not allow persons who do not believe in God, whatever your religion is, to be the defining persons in our community.”
She said, “I just want to repeat for emphasis that when we lose the fear of the Lord, there are no boundaries.”
She said a Red Bay church board member talked about the $108,000 grants to Bodden Town UDP candidate Chris Saunders, who then told members of the press. She said the board member, whom she wouldn’t name, and Mr. Saunders had since apologised.
Ms O’Connor-Connolly said the Red Bay church was a “small church” and in these “difficult times” had only obtained pledges from the congregation to cover the $8,000 for the band, with no money being raised so far to fix the leaky roof. She said the church needs the roof fixed but considered it more important to salvage the reputation of the church and premier.
“It is unfortunate. But what the devil has meant for bad, it has started a revival in our church and if it took this check to do it then it’s worth it,” she said.
Ms O’Connor-Connolly said any church leaders who had issues with accepting the government funds should have voiced their concerns before the church made its application, rather than waiting until after the funds had been approved to tell a political candidate.