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Monday, 5th October, 2009

As I sat in this honourable chamber on Friday last and listened to

the Speech from the Throne being delivered by His Excellency,
the Governor, followed by the Budget Address given by the Hon.
Financial Secretary and finally the Policy Statement made by the
Leader of Government Business, I could not but marvel at the
nature of this creature called politics.

In 21 years of active engagement in public life in this country,

including almost 17 years in this House, Madam Speaker, I have
never heard of a more incredible turnabout by a Government; of a
greater reversal of fortunes; of a more miraculous recovery by a
patient for whom the death rattles had already come, or of a more
magical transformation of dire circumstances.

In what necessarily requires suspended disbelief on the part of all

who listened to the speeches, we were transported by the
Government from the old Cayman where just previously the
Spectre of Bankruptcy loomed large and where Desolation,

Despair and Hopelessness walked among us in broad day to the
new Cayman of solvency, of full compliance with the Public
Management and Finance Law and where, seemingly, all manner
of things is now possible.

This must have required an amazing feat of wizardry worthy of

even the ancient Grand Wizard himself. And if Madam Speaker, I
believed in such things, I would have to give the Leader of
Government Business a new name and call him Merlin. But I will
stop short of doing that because as so many in this community
are increasingly saying, there is something not quite right with the
picture that the Government has been painting of the state of
public finances in this country. In that regard, I am certain that
there is a word that aptly describes what certain members of the
Government have been doing these past four months since the
elections with their many public utterances, but I daresay Madam
Speaker, that word is not wizardry.

Likewise, the speeches made to this House last Friday leave

many in this community uncertain as to what to believe and with a
great deal to worry about. Those speeches do much more than
declare the Government’s intention to raise taxes, they raise
many questions, they raise concerns and in some instances, they
raise real alarm. Principal among these concerns are:

Whether the Budget proposals are viable?

Whether the projected revenue is realistic?
Whether the projections regarding expenditure by the
government are reliable?
What is the impact of the new taxes going to be on the
financial services sector?
What is the impact of the new taxes going to be on the
average person?
What are these changes going to do to the cost of living?
What is going to happen to the country if key government
assets are sold off?
What is going to happen to Cayman if National Treasures
like the North Sound are destroyed in the name of
But, Madam Speaker, despite those concerns and others with
which I will deal in due course, I must acknowledge that those
speeches do contain an element which has largely been missing
from the numerous public statements made by the Government
since it assumed office. At long last there appears to be a
recognition by the Government that the economic situation in
which we find ourselves here in Cayman is in large part the
consequence of the global recession, a recession of
unprecedented scale and severity which is negatively impacting
every country in every corner of the globe.

In his speech to this House the Governor said:

“The economy and especially public finances face considerable
difficulties in common with many other countries, largely as a
result of world economic conditions.”

The Financial Secretary said:

“Madam Speaker, although the United States Federal Reserve

Chairman, Ben Bernanke, has recently stated that the recession
is very likely over, the Cayman Islands, whose economy usually
lags behind the United States’ economy, has come face to face
with what is being termed as the worst global recession of the
century and these Islands are definitely feeling the effects of the
recession. Countries around the world are seeing the most
difficult economic conditions for generations and are taking
extreme measures to combat the challenges they are faced with.
Germany recently announced plans to spend approximately
US$122.0 billion to rekindle its economic growth. The United
States is estimating an operating deficit of US$1.3 trillion by 31st
December, 2009; while it is being predicted that the United
Kingdom’s deficit will reach 1.3 trillion pounds by 31st December

The global recession has brought its share of challenges for these
Islands and the Government alike. Caymanians and residents
have faced job losses, inflation, salary reductions and many have

had to dig deeper into their pockets in order to meet monthly
household expenses.”

These acknowledgements last Friday by those who speak on

behalf of the Government are significant for they, albeit belatedly,
finally provide a proper context in which to consider the country’s
present fiscal predicament. I am certain that the timing of these
acknowledgements is entirely fortuitous, and the fact that they
were not made earlier had nothing to do with the Government’s
blame campaign waged these past four months against my
administration’s stewardship of the country’s fiscal affairs.
Madam Speaker, listening to all that has been said by the
Government these past four months, I have to tell you that I
understand now in a way I never did before what Henry Adams
meant when he said that “Practical politics consists in ignoring

Madam Speaker, I want to make one thing entirely clear. I am not

seeking and never have, to claim that we do not have serious
fiscal challenges or that they did not begin to present themselves
during our watch. But the same was and is true of virtually every
country in the world. Everyone is grappling with the reach and
scale of the worst global recession the world has ever known.
And this is the context in which the present position of the
Cayman Islands Government must be considered and ought to

have been presented by the new administration. This is so not
just because this is fair to the previous administration but because
it is the reality and because it goes to the credibility and image
which this country needs to project to the world if we are to
remain a viable and attractive place in which to conduct
international business.

While it is to be expected that the sitting Government would

exploit the situation that the previous administration left office with
a significant budget deficit, any responsible Leader and
Government ought to be cognizant of the reach and impact of
their words in this globalised world. I say that, Madam Speaker,
because there is no doubt that in his efforts to demonize,
denigrate and discredit my administration the Leader of
Government Business greatly exaggerated the seriousness of the
fiscal challenges the country faces and made a number of
statements, some of which were picked up by the international
media, which can only be described as reckless. The result of all
this is well known. The international media gloatingly seized upon
these statements and across the world stories with headlines like
“Cayman Islands Bankrupt” greeted investors and CEOs of
companies with business or interest in the Cayman Islands. The
resultant firestorm has caused immense damage to Cayman’s
credibility and image both locally and internationally as individuals
and the management of companies panicked. The number of
calls I myself received, Madam Speaker, from people asking what
is going on in Cayman was alarming.

In an effort to restore some sense of sanity to the situation and to

attempt to reassure the countless number of clients and
customers of Cayman’s business community, the Ministry of
Financial Services, was last month forced to put out an advisory
which sought to place Cayman’s current economic challenges in
the context of the global financial crisis and to present the
difficulties the country is experiencing as temporary and
manageable. This was followed by an interview given to the
press by the Leader of Government Business who seemed to
retract his earlier statements and denied that the Cayman Islands
Government was bankrupt. He seized upon the announcement
by Moody’s in early September that it had maintained the Cayman
Islands’ credit rating as stable and used this as a basis for
refuting the international media reports that the Cayman Islands
was bankrupt. He is reported as saying to the Caymanian

“We can confirm that these accusations (that the Cayman Islands
Government was bankrupt) are incorrect. “Indeed the recent
statement made by Moody’s confirms that the Cayman Islands
remains one of the most highly rated financial services
jurisdictions in the world”.

We thank God, Madam Speaker, that the Leader of Government
Business made that statement which from all reports appears to
have restored some degree of calm and confidence to those who
do business in and from these Islands. But Madam Speaker, if
this entire situation had been handled properly, I dare say there
would have been no international media firestorm, no panic
stricken business sector, locally or internationally, and no need to
refute outrageous reports that the Cayman Islands Government is

By his mishandling of the financial challenges presented by a

significant budget deficit, the Leader of Government Business
converted what is undoubtedly a grave situation into a full-blown
crisis with serious international implications for these Islands. In
so doing he has unquestionably undermined investor confidence
in Cayman. His actions and statements in this regard have been
widely, if quietly, condemned in the business community across
these Islands and are indeed deserving of censure.

Madam Speaker, this need not have been the crisis that it has
become. Of this I am certain. Many governments of many
countries across this world, including other UK Overseas
Territories and Crown Dependencies, are struggling with
operational deficits. I have already quoted what the Financial
Secretary has said regarding the deficits of the United Kingdom

itself and the United States. The point I am seeking to make is
that in the present global environment, the fact that a country is
running an operational deficit is not shocking news. In and of
itself, in these times that is unlikely to frighten away business and
investors. But reckless statements which suggest that the
government is bankrupt quickly have everyone running for cover.
Quite frankly, given the steady diet of alarming announcements
made by the Government over the course of the past few months,
it is a wonder that there has not been a mass exodus of business
from these Islands.

Even a Government friendly publication like the Caymanian

Compass recently felt compelled to write an editorial beseeching
the Government to remain quiet until it had taken a final decision
in relation to the way forward regarding taxes. Governing by
responding to what appears to be prevailing public opinion is not
leadership. Headlines that the government might not be able to
pay civil servants’ salaries, that it was suspending contributions to
civil servants’ pensions funds, that it was considering cutting civil
servants’ salaries, that the possible imposition of income tax and
property tax was being considered have not inspired great
confidence in the business community about the future of this

Regardless of the view anyone takes as to how we find ourselves
in this position, whether my administration is at fault or not, most
people who have spoken to me agree that the handling of our
present financial predicament by the new government has thus far
been disastrous.

Aside from these concerns, Madam Speaker, the budget

proposals must be considered bearing in mind what transpired in
the previous fiscal year in terms of the actual performance of the
last budget against forecast. There are certain facts that must be
faced. The revenue of $528M forecast for the 2008/09 fiscal year
by the Financial Secretary when he delivered the Budget address
in April of last year did not materialize. Expenditure was forecast
to be some $490M.

By September, three months in to the fiscal year, it was apparent

that there would be a fall off in revenue for the year. That is why in
October last year my Government took steps to freeze
Government hiring and issued a directive to the Public Service
requiring that ministries, portfolios and departments reduce
operational expenditure by 6%.

Consequently, the original revenue projections were revised

downwards to $525M and the expected downturn in revenue was
reflected in the Strategic Policy Statement for the 2009/10 year
which was presented to the House in December last year.
Again, by early in 2009 it was obvious that the revised revenue
forecasts would not be achieved either. This, together with the
fact that the directive to the public sector to reduce operational
expenditure by 6% did not produce the desired savings and a
host of extraordinary expenditure items made it plain that the
Government would face an operational deficit at 30th June, the
end of the 2008/09 fiscal year.

At the meeting of Finance Committee at the end of March, the

Financial Secretary presented the Supplementary Annual Plan
and estimates. In doing so, he forecast that revenue would
amount to $507M at the end of June, that expenditure would
amount to $536M and that there would consequently be an
operational deficit of $29M.

The elections then intervened and after all the rhetoric is put to
one side, the Financial Secretary has said as recently as Friday
last the operational deficit for the 2008/09 fiscal year is $81M.
Revenue during the last fiscal year fell to $487M against the
original forecast of 528M, a movement of $41M while expenditure
exceeded the forecast by $47M.

I have set out all of that Madam Speaker to provide some

perspective and to demonstrate that against that background
there must be real, worrying questions about actually how realistic
are the present budget proposals.
The Financial Secretary in the part of his Address to the House
which I quoted earlier acknowledges, as he must, that Cayman is
still in the grip of the recession. We are still operating under the
shadow of the economic circumstances which bore down on us
during the course of the last fiscal year. Those were
circumstances which caused all forecasts of revenue to be wildly
off. In light of that, on what possible basis can we be satisfied
that the forecasts of revenue now being made bear any relation to
reality? We certainly cannot do so based on last year’s
performance of revenue against forecasts. And if, as is the case
in the present environment, it is nigh on impossible to predict the
performance of existing revenue streams for which there is a track
record and previous trends, pray how can we rely on forecasts for
new revenue streams for which there are no track records?

The problem is exacerbated and the fears compounded by the

distinct possibility that some of the new revenue measures may
not only fail to realize the forecast revenue, but actually have the
effect of significantly reducing the amount of economic activity
and the numbers of entities which are registered and/or carrying
on business here and thus actually have a negative impact on
both the economy and Government revenue.

I raise these issues Madam Speaker to say to this House that the
Opposition registers its grave concern at the way the Government
is proposing to deal with what is without question a very difficult
set of circumstances in producing a budget which serves us and
satisfies the United Kingdom’s requirements.

After signaling to the world that the Cayman Islands Government

was bankrupt just a few short weeks ago, the new administration
has now apparently changed tack and has presented to the
House a budget which forecasts a small operating surplus and
complies in all material respects with the Principles of
Responsible Financial Management as set out in the Public
Management and Finance Law. So not only are we now not
bankrupt, but we are expecting to produce an operating surplus
by the end of June next year. To achieve this, Madam Speaker,
will require a positive movement of more than $100M in
Government revenue in a mere 8 months and in the midst of the
present recessionary conditions. This, Madam Speaker, we
believe to be a wholly unrealistic expectation.

This wholly unrealistic expectation is made even more so when it

is considered that despite promises made by the Leader of
Government Business publicly last month that his Government
would reduce expenditure by $89M this fiscal year, the budget
presented only shows a reduction of $5.5M in operational

expenditure compared to the previous fiscal year. So, despite all
the criticisms that have been heaped on the shoulders of my
Government by the new administration and others, including
some of the media, it is worth noting that in this budget it is still
very much a case of ‘business as usual’ as far as the costs of
running the civil service are concerned.

An additional concern, Madam Speaker, is that it appears to us

inevitable that the Government will have to return to the House to
seek supplementary expenditure to fund various obligations which
seem to have been omitted from the budget presented.

As an example, the customary $3M equity injection into CINICO

appears to be missing from these budget proposals. Has the
fortunes of CINICO so improved that this funding is unnecessary
this year? Also Madam Speaker, the usual $14M which is
customarily allocated to fund Government’s liability for unfunded
pensions has been reduced to $1.9M.

I also note that the guarantee for Cayman Airways is set to

increase this year by some $10M. Is this sum or part of it to be
used to assist with the annual subsidy for the airline and if not
where will that funding come from?

All of these issues add to the concerns we have about the viability
of the budget proposals.

Madam Speaker, we understand the powerful motivation of the
new administration to produce a balanced budget thereby
avoiding the necessity to seek the UK Government’s approval to
borrow funds. But we believe that attempting to do so in a single
year and in the context of the global recession is overly ambitious,
unrealistic and inflicts unnecessary pain on the Government and
the people of the country. I say unnecessary pain because it is
our understanding that the UK Government is not insisting that
the deficit be eliminated during the course of the present fiscal
year but instead would be content with a plan which saw the
deficit reduced in succeeding years and for a balanced budget to
be produced in 2 or 3 years. This, Madam Speaker, would provide
the opportunity for both the global and local economies to recover
and for business activity and consequently government revenues
to improve over this period.

I have said that we are worried about the level of pain the revenue
measures contained in the budget will inflict on the people and
businesses in this country. This, Madam Speaker, is a real
concern. There is no question but that overall effect of these
measures will be to drive up the cost of doing business and the
cost of living in Cayman. Of particular concern is the proposal to
increase import duties across the board on all presently dutiable
items. The Financial Secretary has presented this as an increase
of 2% since duties which are currently 20% will increase to 22%.
But Madam Speaker an increase in duties from 20% to 22% is not
a 2% increase in the cost of bringing goods into the island. It is in
fact a 10% increase in such costs.

For small businesses which will be required in the present

depressed business environment to pay increased work permit
fees, a new Business Premises Fee of 10% of the rent paid for
their premises, a 10% increase in import duties on goods
imported plus an increased warehouse charge, the impact of the
new revenue measures will be significant if not devastating.

Madam Speaker over the past 4 years while the Leader of

Government Business sat on this side of the House he and his
colleagues never missed an opportunity to talk about the need to
nurture and support small business in this country. In the course
of the last fiscal year as the economy worsened their rhetoric
grew louder and more pervasive as they called on my
administration to do more to assist small business. It is therefore
most ironic, Madam Speaker, that now that they are in the driver’s
seat they are proposing to introduce new revenue measures and
increase existing ones across the board with no consideration
being given to the impact on and the fate of small businesses in
this country.

Similarly, Madam Speaker, in the case of electricity costs,

members of the Government when they sat in the Opposition
constantly criticized my administration for not doing enough to
reduce the cost of electricity to the consumer. I distinctly recall
the Leader of Government Business when he was Leader of the
Opposition going so far as to allege that some people were
having to borrow money to pay their electricity bill. The many
criticisms were made, Madam Speaker, notwithstanding that my
administration had successfully negotiated a new contract with
CUC which reduced that company’s return on investment or profit
and significantly reduced rate charges. As fate would have it,
shortly thereafter, the cost of fuel on the world market rose to
unprecedented levels and seriously impacted the cost of
production of electricity locally. We implemented a Residential
Electricity Consumption Rebate of customs duty on diesel used
by CUC for the production of residential electricity which resulted
in savings to residential consumers of electricity of $6.2M over the
last fiscal year.

The present budget proposals make good on the threat made by

the Leader of Government Business a few months ago that his
government would cease the electricity subsidy which my
administration introduced to help people in this country who were
and still are struggling with the high cost of living. Indeed, Madam
Speaker, this particular measure appears to have already been
implemented as there has been a marked increase in electricity
costs to residential consumers in recent months. So much,
Madam Speaker, for the new administration’s concern about high
electricity bills and the cost of living.

Madam Speaker, I want to turn now to another aspect of the

budget proposals which give the Opposition grave concern and
that is the Government’s announced intention to dispose of
significant government assets as a means of reducing capital
costs and increasing the cash reserves of the Government.

On Friday last the Leader of Government Business tabled copies

of a series of letters between himself and the Hon. Chris Bryant,
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the FCO. The
correspondence shows the ongoing dialogue between the
Cayman Islands Government and the UK Government regarding
our borrowing requirements, among other matters.

The Leader of Government Business’ letter of September 30th


“Specifically the Government has resolved to divest a number of

assets and significantly reduce its capital expenditure. This has
had the consequent effect of reducing the level of borrowing
previously proposed and it will also rebuild our current cash
reserves to satisfy the required minimum 90 days of expenditure
coverage as required under the PMFL.”

Mr. Bryant replied on October 1st, and I quote:

“I infer from your letter that you propose to meet the bulk of the
cost of reducing the deficit by the sale of Government assets.
This may be part of the way forward. Your proposal to bring your
Government’s budget in to full compliance with your PMFL in the
course of this financial year is impressive. But it is a significant
departure from the borrowing requirements you presented to me
only a few days ago so I urge you to ensure the long term costs
of such action are fully weighed against the short term benefits.
As I know you well understand, my concern in this matter is to
ensure the sustainability of CIG public finances. For the most
part this is reflected in our application of Borrowing Guidelines but
I would have concerns if CIG put long term sustainability at risk
through a rapid depletion of Government assets, or through
certain types of public private partnerships and I would want to
take a close interest in any such proposals.”

The Leader of Government Business responds on the same day

to Mr. Bryant, and I quote:

“I fully understand the points made at paragraph iv of your letter

but I would hasten to add that you will see from our cash flow
statement in Appendix 1 that the proposed sale of some public
assets is not accounted for in arriving at our overall surplus figure
of $4.8 M for the year to June 30th 2010. Equally, I give you my
assurance that the sale of public assets will not be an ongoing
tactic of my government.”

Madam Speaker, if this is so, why then why does the Government
propose to dispose of the various assets outlined on page 285 of
the AP&E document which include the Government Office
Accommodation Project and the sewerage plant?

Madam Speaker, I wish to place on record the Opposition’s grave

concerns at the proposal by the Government to divest valuable
public assets. Like the UK Minister, Hon. Chris Bryant, we too are
concerned about putting the long term sustainability of the
Cayman Government’s finances at risk by the depletion of
Government assets. Long term sustainability is far more
important than a quick fix aimed at eliminating the present deficit
in one fiscal year.

Madam Speaker, in the same context of the disposal of public

assets proposed by the Government I wish to examine what I
regard as some curious entries in the Annual Plan and Estimates.
On page 285 of the AP&E there are two sections, namely ‘Capital
Withdrawals from Statutory Authority/Government Owned
Company’ totaling $22,427M and ‘Disposal of Government
Assets’ totaling $71,457,569. These two amounts add up to
$93.9M. Then Madam Speaker when we look on page 311 of
the AP&E on the ‘Cash Flow Statement’ for the year ending 30th
June 2010, under Cash Flows from Investing Activities’ there is a
line which says ‘Proceeds from Sale of Non-Current Assets’ -
$51,476M and another line which is ‘Capital Withdrawals from
Investing Activities’ - $42,428M. These two items also total
$93.9M. If the items just described on page 311 are indeed the
same as the items described on page 285, as I strongly expect
they are, then the question is, if that $93.9M were not in the Cash
Flow statement, how would it have affected the budget?

Now Madam Speaker, I turn to the Government Office

Accommodation Project or the GOAP as it is commonly known.
We are told that the Government is proposing to dispose of the
project during the course of this year for $50M. Then the same
budget document tells us that there is $40M worth of capital
expenditure allocated this year for the ongoing construction of the
project? How does this work? Madam Speaker, that specific
project is not only badly needed but it will pay for itself in ten
years. On completion it will be one of, if not the most energy
efficient buildings in the country. It cannot make sense for the
Government to dispose of it in any form or fashion.

Madam Speaker as I have indicated, the Opposition has real

issues and concerns about the way the Government is proposing
to resolve the present fiscal challenges the country faces. We
worry that the budget as presented is unrealistic; that it is overly

ambitious in that it seeks to eliminate the present deficit in one
fiscal year; that it imposes too much hurt on the business
community and the average resident of Cayman all at once and
we are very concerned about the proposed disposal of
Government assets.

We believe a greater effort ought to have been made and should

continue to be made by the Government to reduce operational
expenditure; that measures to reduce and ultimately eliminate the
current deficit ought to be spread over three years rather than
attempting to eliminate it in one fiscal year by resorting to drastic
measures such as the sale of important Government assets like
the Government Administration Building; that borrowing for capital
expenditure should be restricted to the absolute minimum to
complete ongoing projects and that new projects be limited only to
those that are critical and that the new revenue measures ought
not to be introduced all at once, but be phased in over a number
of years.

Madam Speaker, as I have said before in other forums, the fiscal

challenges we face are serious, but not fatal. They cause us
major concerns at present but they are temporary in nature. They
are largely the result of a fall off in revenue caused by the global
recession. If the Government does not irreparably damage
Cayman’s image and reputation by its handling of this situation,

Cayman’s revenue streams will improve as the global economy
recovers. While there are important lessons to be learned from
this experience, we must not fall into the trap of believing that
there is something fundamentally wrong with the economic model
we have used so successfully these past 50 years, which does
not rely on direct taxation as a basis for revenue. Indeed, it has in
large part been the absence of direct taxation which is
responsible in the tremendous growth and development of our
economy and our country as a whole. I do believe that we must
continue to explore as many possible ways of broadening our tax
base as we can, but we must continue to resist with every sinew
proposals which would threaten the very premise on which the
success of our economy has been built.

We must find better ways to restrict the growth in the cost of the
public service so that as revenue grows the cost of the service
does not continue to grow proportionately as has been the case in
recent years.

We must build greater reserves so that we are better able to deal

with reduced revenue streams when there are dips in the

Madam Speaker, a great deal of criticism has come the way of

the Opposition because of the significant capital works
programmes we engaged in during our term which required
significant borrowing. First I wish to say, that every project we
undertook and indeed some that we had to defer, are critical
infrastructure that the country needs if we are to continue to be a
viable jurisdiction for people to visit, live and do business. The
infrastructure needs of this country had been ignored by too many
previous administrations and there was and still is much catching
up to do in this regard. The truth is Madam Speaker, absent the
global recession we would be lauded for the huge improvements
to the quality of life which the various projects we undertook,
some of which are still under construction, have brought and will
bring to these Islands. I am satisfied that when our performance
is judged from the perspective of distant time, history will be kind
to the decisions we took.

And there is another element to the impact of the capital

development programme which my administration engaged in,
which is rarely discussed in the ongoing debate about the impact
of the recession. The various major Government construction
projects which were or are being undertaken have pumped and
continue to pump many millions of dollars into the local economy
every month and provide employment to hundreds of construction
workers and others in related fields at a time when the
construction industry is struggling. These government projects
are responsible, at least in part, for the fact that the bottom has

not fallen out of the Cayman economy in the way it has in so
many other countries.

Madam Speaker, I will conclude this address with the following

observation. Amidst the economic and fiscal challenges we face
is I believe a much more serious and intractable problem. The
increase in violent crime and in particular gun crime in recent
months has far greater potential to undermine our way of life than
the present fiscal predicament we are in. As I have said earlier,
our financial woes are temporary in nature and revenue will
recover, all things being equal. But if we as a people do not get a
handle on crime, not only will those who visit here or immigrate
here to live and work not want to come, but those of us who are of
this place will not want to live here either.

Madam Speaker I do hope that the Government will pay heed to

the observations and positions which the Opposition have taken
in relation to the budget proposals. As I said to the Leader of
Government Business in the letter which I wrote to him some ten
days ago, we stand ready to assist the Government in any way
we can and we pledge or solidarity with the Government in our
opposition to the introduction of direct taxation as urged by the UK