Published 19th November 2019, 9:12am
I certainly had no intent or desire to start my debate this evening to wind up this debate. You have been here twice as long as I have and we all certainly know how it works here.
I too have been shut out on more than one occasion, playing tactical games of who’s going to speak last. I sat here over the course of the past week and heard your call three times, on more than one occasion and on two occasions I rose to wind up the debate only to have a member finally decide to stand up. When you called the three times again and no one rose, in fact, the members of the opposition, some of the members, were not even in the Chamber, I rose and began my debate. I do not now see how it is possible for me to sit back down and undo what has already been done.
The only comfort I can give to the member is that not only that I have been through that; it’s part of the learning process. But also there will be more than ample opportunity to examine the budget during finance committee, which I expect will go on for at least a week, maybe more, starting on Wednesday.
I propose to wind up this evening and for us to take the vote. I do not have a great deal to say. Only three members of the Opposition actually spoke on the budget address, the Throne Speech and the policy statement. Almost every member of the Government front and back bench have spoken and I believe they have properly addressed all of the issues. There are just a few things I want to wind up.
The Leader of the Opposition did say that he was nauseated by the Government’s budget and he has accused us of hoarding the revenues and resources over the country over the last six years and to come at this time, the last budget of the cycle, to present what he calls an electioneering budget. That certainly is not the case and is demonstratively untrue. Since this Government took office two and a half years ago, we have expended far more in resources of the country on behalf of the people in this country than any government that has gone before and we have been able to do that because of the prudent stewardship of Government finances, which were exercised by the previous administration, which I had the honour to lead, and the careful thought and planning that we have put into our various policies and programmes and projects. We are at this stage in a very, very enviable position where we have been able to make key judgments about how we can improve the lot of the more unfortunate and most vulnerable of this country and we have been able to do things like give the civil service a well-deserved cost of living increase of 5%. We have been able to agree an increase of what the most vulnerable receive, whether they be veterans or seamen or indigents from the $750 a month, which we had raised the stipend to in the previous budget to $850 starting in January of this year and then rising to $950 in January the following year. We have been able to agree to 14 concessions, which will lessen the financial burden on older people, persons over the age of 65, hoping to leave a little more money in their pockets at the end of each month.
We have been able to go further with assisting Caymanians, first time Caymanian home owners, to own their property by allowing a waiver of the first $400,000 purchase price for a first-time home to be credited so they only pay stamp duty on the over $400,000. We have committed to renew the GGHAM scheme, by which Government guarantees essentially the deposit for people who struggle to find the necessary deposit to get a mortgage. We are looking at ways to improve the way we are able to assist persons who have to rent property and who are within a certain income level.
Those are just a few indicators of what Government is attempting to do while continuing to carry through the various programmes and projects and addressing things like crime, the traffic situation and planning for proper transportation systems, improving education by funding in this budget the undertaking, which the Minister of Education made that all teachers who work for the Cayman Islands Government should not earn less than $5,000 a month, providing in this budget for the continued construction of John Gray High School and that being finished before the start of the school year in 2021.
Providing in this budget for a new school hall for Bodden Town Primary, to ensure the National Housing Development Trust can continue its programme of building homes in George Town, North Side and more in East End. This is a budget that is for families. This is a budget that gives a much needed boost to older persons and the vulnerable in our community. It is a budget that will bring relief to our commuters. It is a budget for opportunities as we bring to fruition the development of WORC and continue to drive forward improvements of our education system. It is a budget to tackle the issues faced by our people today and a budget that provides a platform for which we can better meet the challenges of tomorrow.
It is, in summary, a budget that makes good on the promises this Government of Unity made to our people. I know you will remember the tough negotiations that went into putting that programme together. There were those at the time who proclaimed very loudly that this government would not withstand the challenges of difficult political decision making, but we have proved the naysayers wrong and this Government has simply gone from strength to strength. Not only have those hard, tough political decisions been made, but each of those that we face has made us more committed and brought us closer together and more trusting of each other. That bodes well for the rest of this term and this Administration but more importantly it bodes well for the future of this country.
I wish to end on a positive note. This evening I was able to have some very productive discussions with the Leader of the Opposition regarding the proposed Constitutional changes and I believe that we have found a way forward and I am, with his agreement, hoping that we can, as a Parliament, meet on Wednesday to talk through any concerns or issues that members continue to have with a view to us hopefully agreeing on a way forward in order to communicate this to the UK government while the current Minister, Lord Ahmad, for Overseas Territories still is in post. Beyond that we will be dealing with yet an unknown government and minister and so there is really some time pressure to get this done but the Leader of the Opposition and I have agreed tentatively that we should be able to move this forward by way of a motion in this House following the conclusion of proceedings of the Finance Committee.
I commend the Budget Policy Statement of the Government, the Throne Speech and the Budget Address to this Honourable House and the commencement of Finance Committee on Wednesday.