Acknowledging that his Progressives-led administration had “carried forward” some of the “good” ideas from the previous government, Premier Alden McLaughlin said his coalition had also saved other former United Democratic Party initiatives from “failure” and rescued Cayman from the financial “chaos” it experienced during the former government’s reign.
Mr. McLaughlin’s comments came late Thursday in response to Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush’s budget debate on the government’s 2015/16 spending plan, during which Mr. Bush said the Progressives government had “taken credit” for his previous administration’s work.
Mr. McLaughlin said Mr. Bush’s statements were an attempt to “rewrite history and an attempt to justify the failings of his administration.”
Government had carried on with some of the former United Democratic Party plans from the 2009-2012 era, but only “when they have been right for the country.”
One such example was Health City Cayman Islands, which opened in February 2014, but which was largely negotiated and planned during the UDP government, Mr. McLaughlin said.
“The Progressives supported it from the outset,” the premier said.
In contrast, Mr. McLaughlin said the former UDP government – upon taking office in May 2009 – had essentially tossed out legislation to modernize Cayman’s education system, the premier said. Current Education Minister Tara Rivers was in the process of revamping and reintroducing that legislation but in the meantime, Mr. McLaughlin said, the country had lost seven years and “damaged the [chances] of hundreds of children.”
“The UDP just threw out everything the previous [People’s Progressive Movement] administration had introduced,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Contrary to earlier reports, Premier McLaughlin said his government had not abandoned ongoing talks with the Dart group of companies over a land-swap and development deal known as the ForCayman Investment Alliance, a portion of which led to the closure of a section of West Bay Road along Seven Mile Beach and the construction of a new Kimpton hotel on the beach.
“This government and I personally have spent many hours in discussions with Dart to improve the agreement and get a better one for the country that did not include Dart retaining 50 percent of the hotel room tax [from the Kimpton],” he said. “I don’t blame Dart for seeking to get the best deal they could, but I do hold the now-Leader of the Opposition and his administration responsible for not doing the same for this country.
“I am grateful that the management of Dart realized that this administration, while serious about the need to improve the agreement, also realized that we are a government that can be trusted to negotiate in good faith,” the premier continued.
In recent days, it has also been reported that the government’s contract with the special economic zone in Cayman Enterprise City had been renegotiated to add new businesses to the sector, including a new Maritime Park to benefit the international shipping industry registers.
Mr. McLaughlin said that renegotiation happened because initially, a “bad deal” was given to Cayman Enterprise City.
“Until recently, the original agreement remaining in place was preventing Caymanian businesses from entering any market segments that were included in the original Cayman Enterprise City,” he said. “CEC has renegotiated its legal agreement with government to now allow government the ability for reasonable flexibility in allowing other businesses, especially Caymanian businesses, to have access to the market segments that were locked down by the original agreement.”
During his hour-long budget response, Mr. McLaughlin also alluded to claims – although not mentioning them directly – that Mr. Bush had made earlier regarding a wide-ranging conspiracy that “took down” his former UDP government.
“Does he not realize, or can he not admit, that the United Democratic Party lost the 2013 elections because the voters of this country lost confidence and perhaps felt betrayed by his leadership as premier and as minister of almost everything?” Mr. McLaughlin said. “He is only misleading himself.”
Mr. McLaughlin also attacked the opposition leader over his handling of the country’s bidding process for various public projects and his handling of the government budget, which resulted in long delays presenting the spending plan to parliament and – according to the premier – brought Cayman “to the brink of possible intervention by the U.K. government” and the possible suspension of its constitution order by the Mother Country.
The premier cited $4 million in cost overruns from the Royal Watler cruise project, some $1.65 million the then-auditor general said had been wasted in the construction of the Boatswain’s Beach project, the $20 million to $58 million in insurance claims “given up” following 2004’s Hurricane Ivan and $2.5 million paid to GLF construction for breach of contract over the proposed construction of a cruise berthing facility in downtown George Town.
“The lesson that I have learned, and that I hope this country has learned, is just what a destabilizing effect the now-Leader of the Opposition has on any government,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “His disregard for following proper procurement process, his political interference, his mismanagement of the country’s affairs and finances and his magnetic capacity to attract scandals cause the country endless concern and grief.”