Cayman Islands lawmakers will take up two potentially controversial issues as the Legislative Assembly resumes Wednesday for a brief sitting ahead of its September budget review.
Legislators will go through a list of “exceptional expenses” paid during the term of the previous United Democratic Party government that did not receive legislative approval.
In addition, a bit of lingering dispute will be resolved with the selection of a fifth member of the legislature’s Public Accounts Committee following the resignation of Progressives party member Alva Suckoo from the body. Mr. Suckoo’s potential replacement was not known at press time.
Some of the expenses being reviewed date to 2009 and funds have long since been paid for those items. Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who was the premier at the time the expenses were incurred, said in July that he couldn’t remember what the exceptional expenses were for.
According to records made public by government last week, additional expenditures over the four-year period being reviewed included: $2.3 million in legal aid expenses, more than $20 million for the provision of overseas medical care, more than $15 million for Cayman’s new high schools and millions of dollars in additional spending on social services.
Although post-approval of government expenditures through a supplemental appropriations process is nothing new for government, waiting four years and until the next government’s term to do so is unusual, Mr. McLaughlin said.
“That’s irregular,” the premier said. “Exceptional expenses are in the [Public Management and Finance Law] to give Cabinet some leeway. The corresponding requirement is that you’re supposed to account [for those expenses].
“They [referring to the previous UDP government] never did.”
Former Premier Bush denied in July that there was anything “irregular” about belated approvals of Cabinet expenditure. He said there was no “big fuss” about approving the exceptional expenditures, as far as he was concerned, because it’s a process that has to take place.
“But it’s usually done in the House, not through finance committee,” Mr. Bush said. “We had to do this after the People’s Progressive Movement government [of 2005-2009]. It’s not done each year, but I know this is a normal process. It’s a cleanup exercise.”
The last supplementary appropriations to be approved by the full House occurred in early 2012. During the course of that budget year, Mr. Bush said additional cash given to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and to social welfare programmes boosted the operating budget of government by some $27.8 million. Government also had to fund the completion of Clifton Hunter High School in Frank Sound, which opened in September 2012. In total, government increased its budget for the 2011/12 year by nearly $50 million through supplementary appropriation.
Mr. McLaughlin said the former PPM government had spent millions in “exceptional expenditures” on items like Hurricane Paloma recovery on Cayman Brac and funding for the Operation Tempura corruption investigation. However, the premier noted such items were generally considered emergency expenses that were outside of the government’s control.
There is also a limit to the amount of “exceptional expenses” any government can approve. The Cabinet cannot approve more than 10 percent of government’s overall expenses for the year in exceptional expenses, according to the Public Management and Finance Law.
There was no indication the previous UDP government had done so, Mr. McLaughlin said.
Public Accounts Committee
The Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee has been unable to convene its first public meeting because of some scheduling conflicts.
There has also been some dispute over the group’s membership.
Prior to Mr. Suckoo’s resignation, four of the five committee members sat on the government side of the House. Only one member, McKeeva Bush, was serving as a member of the committee from the opposition side.
Mr. Suckoo offered to resign to “even out” the committee membership. PAC Chairman Roy McTaggart also offered to quit the body if the committee heard any auditor general’s reports dealing with activities of the current government.
Aside from Mr. Bush, there are only four elected members not on the government side of the assembly. They include opposition party members Bernie Bush and Captain Eugene Ebanks and independent members Ezzard Miller and Arden McLean.
It is possible that none of those members would accept a place on the PAC, in which case another member would have to be chosen from the among the government side.