Back-to-back legislative meetings expected

A marathon meeting of the Legislative Assembly that begins Wednesday is expected to take a few weeks to complete, putting the meeting’s end shortly before the government presents its next budget in late May.

It is likely legislators will be meeting more or less steadily throughout the next two months.

By law, a budget for the upcoming fiscal year must be completed by June 30.

Premier Alden McLaughlin warned lawmakers earlier this week that the assembly would be seeing “some late nights” as a razor-thin majority government bench attempts to work through a new 18-month budget plan, as well as a series of crucial bills.

Major bills

A lineup of 18 bills, 10 private members’ motions, three government-initiated motions and 48 parliamentary questions await the Legislative Assembly meeting on Wednesday.

The legislative initiatives being considered include amendments to a controversial section of the Health Services Authority Law which has recently been interpreted by the local courts to mean public hospital patients alleging malpractice by authority staff members cannot sue the government unless they prove “bad faith” on behalf of those staffers.

Another bill mooted by parliament seeks to remove all “public officials” from the membership of the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Commission. As it currently stands, that legislation, if passed, would remove the police commissioner, auditor general and complaints commissioner from that body, which investigates allegations of corruption against public officials in Cayman.

Significant and long-standing legislative issues involving private sector workers’ retirement age, personal data privacy, politicians’ and civil servants’ interests disclosure and public education are all due to come before the legislature in the current meeting.

Other bills to be considered are a reworking of pay and pension benefits for Summary Court magistrates, a formal recognition of the local professional standards body for accountants, and management changes for the government’s segregated health insurance fund.

Big budget

The upcoming 18-month budget is a transitional document and will be dealt with at the beginning of the legislature’s next meeting, set to start sometime in late May.

Finance Minister Marco Archer said Cayman is switching its government budgets to a two-year cycle. The upcoming budget will run between July 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2017. After that, the government will issue two-year budgets, starting Jan. 1 of one year and ending Dec. 31 of the next.

Mr. Archer said the 18-month budget will not have as large an operating surplus as recent government budgets have shown, mostly due to timing.

The 18-month period between July 2016 and December 2017 will contain only one “high earning” revenue period between January and April. Typically, the government takes in most of its annual revenue during the first few months of the calendar year when tourism revenues are at their peak and when most financial services-related company fees are due. By contrast, the next budget will contain two “low revenue” periods – during the tourism off-season, normally between August and November, when government revenues tend to shrink.

“Except for the operational surplus, the performance [for the 18-month budget] is as good or better than in previous years,” Mr. Archer said.

The 18-month plan does not include any proposals to borrow money or to add new government fees.