The Cayman Islands government provides just more than $650,000 annually for what are known as the “constituency allowances” of its Legislative Assembly elected members, but maintains no audited record of how the money is spent.
The allowance is a long-established budget line-item that helps lawmakers defray costs of constituency offices in their district, including hiring employees at those offices and other associated costs.
The amount paid to each political office-holder varies based on how many representatives are involved in operating a constituent office. The annual amount paid to each MLA can range from $24,000 to $48,000 per year above their normal salary.
For Cayman Brac and Little Cayman MLAs, the amounts provided are between $86,000 and $96,000 per year, largely because of the travel costs and associated expenses of going back and forth between the Sister Islands and Grand Cayman to attend assembly and/or Cabinet meetings.
Documents requested via a private citizen’s recent Freedom of Information request indicated that more than $2.6 million was spent on these allowances between 2013 and 2017. Before 2013, budget records show that constituency costs were slightly less because there were fewer elected representatives in the Legislative Assembly (15 instead of 18), but the overall amount provided to each MLA had not changed within the past five years.
In 2009, government records show $342,000 was requested by 14 lawmakers for constituency allowances.
The total requested by the MLAs need not all be spent or even requested. For instance, in 2009, then-opposition MLA Alden McLaughlin decided to forgo receiving the allowance.
However, if the amounts are requested and spent, Auditor General Sue Winspear confirms that her office has no way of tracking that.
“The MLAs’ constituency allowances are overseen by the Cabinet Office,” Ms. Winspear said. “The guidelines explain that the allowance is not intended to meet the actual cost of providing a constituency office but provide an allowance for these costs.
“Therefore, as the actual cost of each element varies relative to the provision, the MLA will bear the difference or benefit, accordingly. MLAs are asked to provide a copy of a lease and an employment contract [of any constituency workers] in order for the Cabinet Office to process a claim for the monthly constituency allowance.
“As the guidelines do not require elected members to maintain records of their actual expenditure, we cannot look at the detail of this expenditure when undertaking our annual financial audit, but only look to ensure that MLA allowances paid out agree with the approved MLA allowances.”
In other words, all the auditors can check on is whether a constituency allowance was requested and if that amount was provided to the elected lawmaker.
“They do not provide records of what they’ve spent their allowance on,” Ms. Winspear said. In its response to the recent Freedom of Information request, the Legislative Department of the Cayman Islands government indicated that each recipient of the constituency allowance “may wish to maintain records of their actual expenditure” but that “those records will not form the basis of these payments.”
Typically, MLAs who share a constituency office are given less individually each month than an MLA who is on his or her own.
For instance, at the start of the last government’s term, the Progressives’ four George Town representatives were each given $2,000 per month for their constituency allowance – a total of $8,000 per month for the four members.
Then-independent Roy McTaggart and Winston Connolly were given $5,750 per month to run their two-member office.
Independent West Bay lawmaker Tara Rivers received $4,000 per month since she operated a constituent office on her own, while the other three West Bay representatives of the Cayman Democratic Party – McKeeva Bush, Bernie Bush and Capt. Eugene Ebanks each got $2,400 per month, for a total of $7,200 a month.
In Bodden Town, at the start of the 2013-2017 term, all four representatives were together under the Progressives party banner, so each received $2,000 per month.
For the smaller districts, records showed East End MLA Arden McLean requested a $4,000 per month allowance, while North Side MLA Ezzard Miller asked for $2,375 per month.
In Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell received $8,000 per month, due to the additional travel requirements, including attendance at Cabinet meetings. Then-House Speaker Juliana O’Connor-Connolly received $7,200 per month for her constituency allowance.