Members of Parliament have approved an additional CI$96.4 million for the Government 2021 budget for planned and ongoing programmes and projects in the current fiscal year.
Of this, CI$27.5 million will go towards supporting an extension of tourism stipend payments to the end of the year.
The approval came after a lengthy debate between ministers of the PACT administration and the former Progressives-led government which had instituted the measure as part of a series of steps to cushion the financial impact on workers from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Asked about the decision to cut the monthly CI$1,500 payments by half for November and December, Hon. Minister of Tourism Kenneth Bryan reported to the Finance Committee hearing that the entire tourism stipend system was under review to tighten up any loopholes.
He said the end result could be that some persons could receive increased payments while other could see a decrease based on their personal and employment circumstances.
In another significant policy shift, the PACT government scaled down funding earmarked by the previous administration for international representation of the Cayman Islands particularly aimed at lobbying and promoting the key financial services sector.
After considerable probing by the Opposition defending the advantages they saw in having this policy in place and countered by arguments by the PACT government, especially via Hon. Minister for Investment and Social Development , Andre Ebanks, the government’s coalition carried the vote.
Min. Ebanks explained that the initial $2 million will be redirected to fund local micro and small businesses and for social development support.
A government statement details this as broken down into; $900,000 for permanent financial assistance, $685,000 for temporary financial assistance, $600,000 for ex-gratia benefit payments to seamen and ex-servicemen; and $50,000 for the care of the indigent and disabled elderly persons in the Pines.
Another area which saw much debate was over the suspension of the farming stipend put in place by the Progressives-led government but which is now being reviewed by the PACT government on the basis that the criteria for awarding the payouts needs to tightened up.
In that respect, $2.2 million has been allocated in grants for farming and agriculture activities including to farmers, backyard gardeners, agricultural organisations and committees for small and medium projects which support the agricultural industry, improve the sector's infrastructure and enhance food security.
Additional funding was required for COVID-19 expenditure and to service the revenue shortfall caused by the pandemic and the resulting closure of the Cayman Islands borders.
The main sums allocated are; $10 million for the Cayman Islands Airport Authority, $7 million to Cayman Airways Limited, $2.8 million for the Office of the Commissioner of Police, and $2 million for the Cayman Turtle Conservation and Education Centre Limited.
Other major fund allocations approved include; $17.6 million for tertiary health care services unavailable at the Health Services Authority for indigents, seamen and veterans who are referred for treatment locally and overseas and $8.8 million to fund the remaining commitments for the long-term residential mental health facility.
For infrastructure, $4 million for additional expenditure required for upgrades to existing roads and $2 million to fund key infrastructure projects under major road works expansion.
The Cayman Islands Regiment is the recipients of an $1 million to fund development and operations.
Social projects in the Sister Islands have been allocated a further $1.05 million to continue home repairs for indigent persons, notably senior citizens, as well as for providing gainful employment to unemployed Caymanians through the beaches and community clean-up programme.
Just under $1 million will go to education services for special needs students, specifically for hiring two new teachers and four assistant teachers at the Lighthouse School as well as for scholarships for the growing special education needs.
In a carry-over from the previous administration and Parliament, around CI$3.5 million will go towards funding the new management and operations structure of the Parliament, ministerial salaries and costs for running MPs’ constituency offices.
These allocations supplement current government expenditures until the new budget - the first by the PACT administration - is delivered in November.