Scrutiny of public spending to be cut

| 14/10/2015 | 13 Comments
Cayman News Service

Marco Archer, Minister of Finance & Economic Development in the LA

(CNS): The introduction of multi-year budgeting following amendments to the Public Management and Finance Law (PMFL), which was passed by legislators Wednesday, will cut the scrutiny and transparency on government spending as it will reduce the number of Finance Committee meetings during the life of a parliament. Defending the move to multi-year budgets, which will remove the annual review and questioning of public servants and their spending by MLAs, Finance Minister Marco Archer said that annual reports and audits would provide the opportunity for scrutiny and political debate.

In his contribution to the debate on the amendment bill, Ezzard Miller noted the importance of that scrutiny by all members of the Legislative Assembly during Finance Committee. He said it was the only time non-government members were able to ask questions about public spending and raise concerns over the mismanagement of public funds and policy problems. It was also the only chance those without a seat in Cabinet could expect to influence spending in favour of their constituents, he pointed out.

“I have serious concerns about the change to the appropriation law as it will reduce the opportunity to scrutinize government budgets,” he told his colleagues in the LA. “If we are going to reduce that to just twice during a four year parliament, that reduces the non-government members’ opportunity to influence public spending.”

He also pointed to the risk of over-spending and budget mismanagement, since senior civil servants will not have to answer for the spending for two years. Miller said MLAs needed every opportunity to hold civil servants accountable.

There were many problems with the PMFL but the budget process was one of few things that has worked, Miller said, warning that the multiple budgets would not address the numerous problems that the auditor general has identified and that it was a political move rather than one designed to improve public finance management.

“Once again a government is amending selective sections of this law to fit its agenda and they are not addressing the comprehensive problems,” the North Side member added.

During the committee stage, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who said he supported the principle of the bill and longer budget periods, also queried how the scrutiny of public spending would take place and got a commitment from the minister to introduce some kind of committee-style meeting that would still enable MLAs to scrutinise the civil servants and examine spending on an annual basis. How that would work was not spelled out but Archer said during the next phase of amendments it would be considered.

Explaining the justification for changing the financial year to fit with the calendar year and multiple year budgeting, Archer denied it was politically motivated.

“The amendments were proposed with best intentions for the country and not for political reasons,” he said, adding that the civil service would be expected to manage budgets more diligently.

He further stated that more changes would be coming next year, as the committee that reviewed the law had made some 40 recommendations. The amendment bill addresses just five changes, which the minister said were considered the most critical and did not require changes to government internal systems.

The amendments provide for the introduction of an 18-month budget for 2016/17 and then future budgets will become biennial instead of annual. Archer said that the budget process took as much as eight months every year to complete, which was a strain on government finances and resources. But, he said, government would do its best to ensure the scrutiny remains.

However, East End MLA Arden McLean pointed out that Archer could not guarantee what government would do after the 2017 budget as he may not be in it.

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Category: Government Finance, Laws, Politics

Comments (13)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Less scrutiny??? And they claim to be the party of transparency? Well that went out the window the minute they got in!

  2. Anonymous says:

    why is there no good news in cayman

    CNS: Go to CNS Local Life

  3. Anonymous says:

    Well now that Swarbrick the cat has left the barn the MLA mice are fixing to have a real partehhhh! Just when I thought our politicians were evolving they decided to crawl back into a cave. Cayman doesn’t deserve a constitution, I agree with a previous poster direct rule is coming and Marco has just made a great step towards it.

    • Anonymous says:

      Direct rule would just add to the headache of the Overseas territories and force unnecessary expense, unplanned, onto the FCO with no definitive exit point.
      I would suggest that it is more likely that the crazy calf is just cut loose to go and find its own way and look after itself.

  4. Anonymous says:

    This is all Bs!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Dumb move by Marco and the Regressives. Why are you afraid of the scrutiny and accountability? Thought you were different but power has revealed who you really are it’s so sad

  6. anonymous says:

    A truly retrograde step, financial reform being taken apart one nut and bolt at a time.

    Rather than rise to the level of fiscal prudence and accountability, the goal seems to be, lets dumb the system down to our level where we can wuk wit it. Now the law makers who make six figures annually and at least had to go to the LA to plan and debate once per year, will now only need to do it twice in 4 years.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I can see the value of limiting the time civil servants spend on the intensive budget process — but I just don’t like the smell of this at all.

  8. Ping Pong Politricks says:

    They’re not worried about a lack of scrutiny now because they can never imagine the possibility that they won’t get back in the next time. Then when the other crew gets in, they will wring their hands and wail and wonder how it could possibly have happened. At that point it won’t seem like such a great idea.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Everywhere else scrutiny and accountability increase, but in Cayman?? Go figure. Direct rule!

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