Hon. Leader of the Opposition and Political Leader of the Progressives, Roy McTaggart has hit back at accusations from Hon. Finance Minister Chris Saunders over the state of the government’s finances the PACT coalition inherited from the former Progressives-led administration.
Mr McTaggart who held that position in the previous government who said he found the assertions of Mr Saunders “curious”, stated that: “Either way, I will help set him right.”
Mr Saunders has been questioning the calculations and projections of the previous government saying “one of the first challenges we had as a new government was getting the “correct” information.”
According to him the actual deficit for 2020 was $87m – a difference of $49m which was more than double the $38m forecast.
The PACT(People-driven, Accountable, Competent and Transparent) Finance Minister has also estimated that the government’s projected deficit for 2021 would be $200 million - more than double their predecessor’s government’s forecast deficit of $98m.
But Progressives leader McTaggart has now countered that it’s Mr Saunders whose sums are wrong and claims that his successor might lack an understanding of how government works or is playing political games.
“Looked at in one light, it could be that the Minister may not understand how government truly works and is simply wrong. Or perhaps, as some have suggested, the Minister wishes to create doubt in the minds of the public regarding my stewardship as Finance Minister,” Mr McTaggart retorted to the claims by his predecessor as finance minister.
Mr McTaggart gave a detailed outline of how under his stewardship the previous government arrived at its conclusions with the involvement of senior civil servants.
“I will tell the Finance Minister that I trust the Financial Secretary, the Accountant General, and the Ministry staff who prepared the 2020 year-end financial results back in March. I have some difficulty believing that they would have gotten their March figures that wrong. The change looks to have occurred under the Minister’s watch but hopefully not under his direction.”
He also challenged Mr Saunders on how he arrived at the new population estimate of 71,100, 6,000 more than the often-referenced Cayman Islands population figure of 65,000.
(Preparations are underway for the next census which will be carried out this year).
“I eagerly await the Minister’s explanation as to what accounted for this supposed increase in the 2020 fiscal year-end deficit. I hope, though, that he has a better rationale for this increase than the one he offered for the increase in the estimated population numbers,” he stated.
Former finance minister McTaggart also challenged Mr Saunders on the issue of the COVID-relief tourism stipend put in place by the Progressives government and which is being continued but reviewed by the current PACT administration.
“My government quite correctly provided funding for the stipend until only a month or so after the election, bearing in mind the principle that a government leaving office should not financially bind a new government. This would have allowed time for a new Government to increase the funding and continue the programme if it so wished,” Mr McTaggart explained.
According to the Progressives leader, “There was nothing sinister in this – we acted responsibly. The Minister was right about the funding period, but he is wrong that we would not have continued the stipend. As we said during the campaign, we would have increased the monthly stipend from $1,500 to $2,000.”
Commenting on Mr Saunders’ references to the Pre-Election Economic and Financial Update(PREFU), Mr McTaggart rejected the accusation that the previous government “was hypocritical for saying we supported continuing the programme yet only provided partial funding.”
He said Mr Saunders “is either unaware of how the process works or is deliberately misleading.”
In defending his government's achievements while in office, Mr McTaggart threw the ball back in the court of the PACT coalition of independents.
“I suspect that the real challenges that the Minister has are disagreements amongst the PACT team about what plans and policies to support. This disagreement was highlighted by a recent online news site that many believe has a direct line to the Premier. I suggest the Minister stick with putting together his SPS rather than spending time on innuendo.”
Mr McTaggart said the Progressives-led coalition governments have left behind a solid foundation and successful policies on which the PACT government can build.
He concluded by challenging the PACT government on its record in office since it took over the reigns of power on April 21st.
“I await the Minister’s explanation as to what caused the Ministry to increase the 2020 year-end deficit since he took office. I also look forward to hearing the government’s strategic policy statement. Of course, those of us in the Opposition will support any sensible policies proposed by the government. And we will provide alternatives solutions to those policies we believe are not in the interest of these beloved Cayman Islands.”
The new PACT government presents its Strategic Policy Statement(SPS) and the national budget on July 14th, at the first formal business session of the parliament since it was sworn in.
Listen to Mr McTaggart's full statement:
Leader of Opposition Corrects the Minister of Finance
Related article: FINANCE MINISTER SAYS PROGRESSIVES GOT THEIR SUMS WRONG