Cayman Islands Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said it was “absolutely poor and questionable” for the premier to present details of the upcoming government budget to a $200-a-plate political party fundraiser at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Tuesday night, before the official release of the spending plan in the Legislative Assembly next week.
Mr. Bush alleged that the fundraiser could be viewed as an attempt to use government resources – namely the time and effort spent compiling the 2016/17 budget plan – in order to raise money for Premier Alden McLaughlin’s Progressives party.
“It’s unheard of,” Mr. Bush said Wednesday. “You can’t take the government budget of a country and go down to the Ritz – somewhere [the Progressives] said we shouldn’t have – and invite people to come and pay. [They’ve] not had the decency to refer anything to the opposition, the independents or indeed the general man on the street.”
A public relations company released Mr. McLaughlin’s Tuesday night speech at The Ritz-Carlton to the media on Wednesday. The speech contains few, if any, details that were not already publicly known regarding the 2016/17 government budget.
During his speech, Mr. McLaughlin said the spending plan would cover 18 months between July 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2017. He also said no new fees and no plans for government to borrow money would be included in the proposal.
Asked to respond on Thursday to Mr. Bush’s accusations, Mr. McLaughlin said his government had already put out a statement on the fundraising event and did not intend to say anything further.
During Tuesday night’s speech, the premier also indicated that the 2016/17 budget should be the last time the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office is needed to pre-approve a local spending plan, as Cayman is now within all principles of responsible financial management required by local law.
“The U.K. has said to us on several occasions, and again in recent weeks, how extremely impressed they are with the way we have turned around government finances,” Mr. McLaughlin said in his speech Tuesday night.
Criticism of the Progressives fundraising dinner was also heard on local talk-back radio from Legislative Assembly independent members Winston Connolly and Arden McLean.
Mr. McLaughlin said nothing in response to that commentary. “The focus is on the new budget,” he said Thursday, responding to questions from the Cayman Compass.
Mr. Bush on Thursday released a further statement, alleging that the Progressives-led government is “a government for themselves and for their friends.”
“To use the budget as a draw-card for political fundraising … and then to give the elected representatives just one day on May 30, with a general election in between, we have a budget that has no scrutiny,” he said. “It is a travesty.”
Mr. Bush’s comment refers to the fact that, with an 18-month budget, the government’s spending plan will not be reviewed by parliament again until sometime in 2018, well after the general election scheduled for May 24, 2017.
Mr. Bush and North Side MLA Ezzard Miller have objected to the extension of the budget process, stating it defers scrutiny of a spending plan until well after the 2017 vote.
“It makes a mockery of government,” Mr. Bush said.
The opposition leader also alleged that MLAs had been informed they would have one day – May 30 – to debate the 2016/17 budget. Mr. McLaughlin denied this is the case, saying the budget would be introduced by the government that day with subsequent debate among members starting on June 1.
Mr. Bush later clarified that his objection was to the amount of time lawmakers would have to review the budget between Monday when they first receive the budget, until Wednesday, when the debate on it begins.