Cayman Islands Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said Thursday that government members should be thanking his former administration for a number of economic development projects now under way, as well as for a projected $108 million operating surplus in the current year’s budget.
Mr. Bush spoke for more than two hours during a Legislative Assembly meeting Thursday, giving the opposition party’s first response to the spending plan proposed for the government’s upcoming budget year that begins on July 1.
“This is an overwhelming endorsement of [the former United Democratic Party] government’s work,” Mr. Bush said. “Let me thank the Premier [Alden McLaughlin] in continuing the policies of our administration almost verbatim.
“It can’t be denied, no matter how much you paint it red,” Mr. Bush said, referring to the color favored by the ruling Progressives political party.
Mr. Bush accused Premier McLaughlin of opposing most or all of the projects the former UDP government backed when Mr. McLaughlin was in opposition, including Health City Cayman Islands, Cayman Enterprise City and aspects of the ForCayman Investment Alliance agreement – all of which the current Progressives-led government now supports, with the exception of the closure of the George Town landfill and proposed opening of a new landfill in Midland Acres.
Mr. Bush also noted that government was enjoying the fruits of a series of new revenue measures the UDP implemented between 2010 and 2012 in the form of the operating surplus.
In addition, Mr. Bush noted that the current Progressives-led government was seeking to divest or privatize a number of government services and functions, a plan he said he was “barked at” for proposing during the last UDP administration.
Premier McLaughlin interjected at this point, noting the Mr. Bush had been head of that government for some time, implying that he might have implemented several of those proposals at the time.
“Remind me how long you were in charge of government?” Mr. McLaughlin asked.
“As long as it took for you to mess it up, it took for me to clean it up,” Mr. Bush retorted. “[The premier] comes now bereft of ideas, only to depend on the funds we left in the coffers … the very thing he ran all over the place criticizing.”
Stating he did not wish to oppose simply for opposition’s sake, Mr. Bush then went on to criticize a number of government’s current cost cutting measures aimed at Cayman’s private sector.
He said the 4.3 percent reduction in Caribbean Utilities Company bills arrived at by cutting 25 cents from diesel fuel import duties charged to CUC was “not meaningful at all.” A person with a $320 per month electricity bill would save just more than $13 dollars with the rate cut, which will take effect in January.
“This four percent we’re giving you now, it can’t come off in July, can’t come off in August … when it’s really, really hot, bo-bo,” Mr. Bush said. “No, no, dear people, you have to wait until the weather cools down.”
In addition, the two percent reduction in customs imports would be scant help to an already beleaguered private sector, Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush also assailed the Progressives-led government’s action, or what he perceived as a lack thereof, with regard to developing the local financial services industry.
“Our companies have an important window of opportunity to create a strong presence in the Americas over the next five to ten years,” Mr. Bush said. “However, over time, other players in this region will catch up.
“We must be in leading positions in key markets in the next four years which we can build upon.”
The opposition leader said he felt Cayman could capitalize on the security of its jurisdiction and its legal and financial institutions, in particular.
“We need to want more fund managers … and we need the customers facing people to service any market,” he said. “The reality is, with the current immigration laws … unless we welcome them, the best of the best will not come and as long as people do not come, we lose an average of three positions for every one [job] that doesn’t come.
“That’s where we’ve lost out in the last several years when some of the companies moved out,” he said. “It is imperative that some type of permanence must be offered to persons in our financial industry.”