The Premier, Hon. Alden McLaughlin will reveal the 18-month budget, provide a reflection on how far the administration has come and where it is going.” […] “Price: CI$200 per ticket”
– Notice from the Progressives in advance of the “Annual Budget Highlights and Fundraising Dinner”
“You can’t take the government budget of a country and go down to The Ritz […] and invite people to come and pay.”
– Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush
A good portion of politics is appearance. And this sort of thing just looks … well … like “insider trading” – where political insiders were encouraged to trade cash possibly for influence, certainly for information.
The ruling Progressives party enticed supporters to a $200-per-head fundraising event at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton resort, using as bait a sneak preview of the government’s upcoming official budget.
To the Progessives’ credit (and perhaps somewhat to attendees’ dismay), that bait was apparently followed by a switch, as Premier McLaughlin ended up providing very little in the way of detail on the budget, according to a copy of the speech distributed after Tuesday’s event: “As the 2016-2017 budget will not be presented until Monday, May 30, I am not yet at liberty to speak to the financial projections for the upcoming 18 months,” the premier said.
Strictly speaking, it is not with the substance of the premier’s speech, or the Progressives’ event, that we have concerns. Rather, it’s the optics of the situation.
We write here with a particularly light touch because we appreciate that political parties need money to operate and run campaigns – don’t try to run for president in the U.S. for less than a billion dollars, and you don’t raise that kind of cash with car washes and fish fries.
Nevertheless, we question whether it was wise for the elected government to put on an expensive fete for well-heeled supporters on our small, seemingly egalitarian, island: “Tables of 10 are $2,000. Have dinner with the Premier for $3,500 (8 guests), with a Minister for $3,000 (8 guests)” at the finest hotel in the Cayman Islands – a place where many voters may never have been inside and with a price tag that many more would not be able to afford.
It could indeed leave the impression, as Mr. Bush was quick to observe, that the Progessives do have “a government for themselves and for their friends.”
On a different, but we do not think dissimilar, thought, the Progressives are trumpeting the statistic that last year’s budget should result in an operating surplus of $145 million (bringing government’s three-year net balance to about $400 million in the black). That’s well and good – in fact, very good. (Some of the operating surplus will be used to pay off principal on government debt and still more will be reallocated for capital projects, equipment purchases, and other disbursements.)
Even so, with operating surpluses of that magnitude, why is government relying on private sector Samaritans to purchase public assets, such as the sorely needed ambulance, or to feed our needy and hungry elderly?
Moreover, key capital projects, such as remediating and relocating the George Town Landfill or completing the John Gray High School, appear to be only inching forward – or at a standstill.