By Staff Writer
In a Sunday morning message via social media, Hon. Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Chris Saunders, has questioned the sums of the previous administration as he prepares to present his first budget in the coming weeks.
His weekly homilies have been absent since he took on the finance portfolio in the new PACT (People-driven, Accountable, Competent and Transparent) administration.
“I actually miss my Sunday morning messages,” he wrote while pondering his topic.
“The answer – SPS (Strategic Policy Statement),” he stated, noting that “by law, a new government must present to Parliament a Strategic Policy Statement within 3 months following a general election.”
Parliament will resume on July 14th at which time the SPS will be presented.
Against that background, Mr Saunders has given an early indication of what to expect when he makes the formal presentation - and it has to do with what he claims are inaccurate calculations and financial projections of the previous Progressives-led government.
“One of the first challenges we had as a new government was getting the “correct” information,” the finance minister said.
He reported that the Pre-Election Economic and Financial Update was gazette on Wednesday the 17 March 2021 showing that the central Government had an “unaudited” deficit of $38m for 2020 and was forecasting a deficit of $98m for 2021.
But, according to Mr Saunders, “Unfortunately, that was not the case.”
He said the actual deficit for 2020 was $87m – a difference of $49m which was more than double the $38m forecast.
“And even more challenging,” he continued, “was the forecasted deficit of $98m for 2021 did not include any tourism stipend being paid after the month of May 2021.”
Finance Minister Saunders determined “if that was included for the rest of the year, the deficit in central Government would be between $130m to $140m. Even more challenging was the forecasted deficit for Statutory Authorities and Government Companies (SAGCs) which was around $59m.”
“In short,” he concluded, “we were looking at a deficit of around $200m for 2021. That’s the bad news.”
In his widely circulated What’sApp message, Mr Saunders when on to state that the other issue confronting the PACT government was the safe re-opening of the borders.
“In order to safely re-open, we need to get the vaccination rate up to achieve herd immunity. The challenge for us was ensuring that we were using the right population number.”
He claimed that, “When we arrived in office, the population number that was being used was 65,000. My colleagues and I questioned that number. We were subsequently provided with a range that say the population may be in excess of 71,000. A difference of 6,000 people which increased the amount of people to be vaccinated by close to 5,000. More bad news.”
Mr Saunders then offered a brighter outlook, stating, “Now for the good news."
The Finance Minister disclosed that “the Government has set a target of reducing the re-forecasted deficit of between $130m and $140m by at least $100m this year. In short, we expect to achieve a deficit that is less than $40m for 2021.”
He also said that “as the Minister with responsibility for Finance, I have also set an even more aggressive target which will have to be approved by my other elected colleagues over the coming weeks.”
Mr Saunders did not divulge any details on that but advised his readers:
“Make no mistake, this Government is committed to returning Government’s financial position to a surplus position without compromising service or placing any additional hardships on the people of the Cayman Islands.”
Mr Saunders went on to state that said "the other good news is that the vaccinations are going well." He credited his colleague ministers Sabrina Turner (Health and Wellness) and Kenneth Bryan (Tourism and Transportation) for their efforts, saying “they have really gone above and beyond.”
He also hinted at other “exciting news” coming from the government but did not make any further revelations.
In what is seen as a response to comments about a lack of information from the government, Mr Saunders offered this reassurance.
“I want to also thank the many of you for your patience and understanding during this period of transition between governments. I am confident that you will be very happy when the SPS is made public and you see the policies and priorities of the Government for the next 4 years. All I can say is watch this space.”