Budget targets crime, education

Plans for an influx of 75 new police officers, a $9.6 million cash injection for education and funding for a series of major infrastructure projects were among the key commitments announced in the Cayman Islands government’s budget presentation Friday.

Premier Alden McLaughlin also outlined plans for a review of the National Conservation Law and preliminary discussions on reform of government’s health insurance company, CINICO.

He confirmed increases to pension payments for seamen and veterans and an expansion of the Ready2Work jobs program.

Delivering his policy address following the state opening of parliament and the Throne Speech from outgoing Governor Helen Kilpatrick, Mr. McLaughlin detailed some of the Government of National Unity’s key policy and spending commitments.

He outlined $36 million in spending toward the completion of the John Gray High School, planning work on a new primary school in West Bay, and upgrades to computer software and equipment at primary schools across the islands.

Major capital investments include an allocation of $13 million over two years to complete construction of the mental health facility, a cluster of cottages that will provide residential care for the mentally ill, opening in 2019.

Significant sums have also been allocated for road development, the decommissioning of the George Town landfill site, and the phased implementation of new waste management infrastructure.

The premier also confirmed his coalition government would forge ahead with plans for a cruise and cargo dock in George Town. A further $3 million has been pledged to the project, with Mr. McLaughlin suggesting procurement could begin next month.

Governor Helen Kilpatrick delivers her final Throne Speech at the Legislative Assembly on Friday.

Other spending commitments confirmed Friday include $1.1 million toward the culling of invasive green iguanas and another $1.7 million on eradicating disease-spreading mosquitoes, including rolling out the genetically modified mosquito program islandwide.

Finance Minister Roy McTaggart said these spending goals would be achieved with no new revenue collection measures and no new debt, other than the partial refinancing of a loan due in 2019.

He said government expects to bring in revenues of $730.7 million in 2018 and $722.8 million in 2019, the two years covered by this budget. Operating expenses are forecast to run to $644.1 million and $657.8 million for each year, for a combined surplus of nearly $150 million.

Describing the budget as “responsible but ambitious,” Mr. McLaughlin said the top priorities were education and public safety.

Education

He said there would be an additional $9.6 million allocated for “special education,” which he defined as the enhancement of science, literacy and mathematics.

New posts had been added across the system for specialists in those subjects and for reception, primary and high school teachers, as well as support staff, the premier noted.

He said technical and vocational options would be expanded and he urged parents and young people to consider careers in the trades. Highlighting the more than 6,000 work permits currently in circulation for skilled workmen in trades like plumbing, car mechanics and air conditioning technicians, he said government would develop a strategy for equipping young Caymanians for those type of jobs.

He added, “No one – particularly those seated in the opposition – should doubt the priority we in this government give to improving education, including TVET [Technical and Vocational Education and Training]. And to demonstrate it, I again repeat our commitment to a clear target of at least 75 percent of high school graduates to move on to post-secondary education or training by the end of this administration’s term. This is a challenge we are doggedly determined to meet.”

Premier Alden McLaughlin delivers his budget address before the Legislative Assembly on Friday. – PHOTOS: ALVARO SEREY

Crime

The headline crime fighting policy was a commitment to fund 75 new police officers over the next three years.

Highlighting public fear in the wake of recent robberies, Mr. McLaughlin said, “the immediate response has to be more effective policing.”

He suggested the additional resources, which could also include new community support officers, should come with an extra layer of accountability, again suggesting that some control over policing should be devolved from the U.K. government to a local board.

“We will insist that resources are used as agreed and hold the Commissioner [of Police Derek Byrne] to account for the results of those expenditures. We also intend to discuss with the U.K. the establishment of a Police Authority to help create new approaches in fostering accountability and enhance the responsiveness of the RCIPS to the people’s concerns.”

Governor Kilpatrick said the U.K. was prepared to come to the table on the issue.

“While no outcome to these discussions can be pre-determined, I welcome the conversation,” she said.

Mr. McLaughlin said the budget also focused on crime prevention with increased spending for “at-risk youth diversion projects” and measures to cut reoffending.

Infrastructure

Government has allocated $93.8 million next year and $99.1 million in 2019 for a series of infrastructure projects and ongoing debt repayments for government companies, including Cayman Airways and the Turtle Centre.

Infrastructure commitments over the next two years include:

  • $14.6 million toward the waste management project and decommissioning of landfills on all three islands
  • $20.1 million for John Gray High School completion and other school upgrades
  • $2.4 million for development of a new West Bay Police Station
  • $5.8 million for new vehicles and equipment for the fire service
  • $19.5 million for upgrades to the road network
  • $3 million for the cruise berthing project.

Mr. McLaughlin said the waste management project would be an important focus over the next few years.

“When negotiations are finalized, we will be well on our way to a developing a modern waste management system that will include recycling and composting and ensure that residual waste is not just dumped, but used to generate electricity to power Cayman’s homes and businesses ….

“Groundbreaking is anticipated next summer for a phased implementation of the new waste management system, with the aim to have it fully operational, including the waste management plant, by 2021. This budget ensures we have the finances in place to progress against that timeline.”

Finance Minister McTaggart said government was in a strong financial position and had produced a budget that complied with the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility while delivering on key policy commitments.

The house adjourned just before 1 p.m. Friday. The budget debate is due to begin Wednesday, during which individual ministers are expected to give more detail on the spending and policy commitments under their remits.

Following that debate, legislators go through a line-by-line analysis of the two-year spending plan, including the questioning of senior civil servants, before the budget is finally approved, likely around the end of November.

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