Thursday, May 26, 2011

Not Enough Cake (Cayman politics)

It’s amazing how often Caymanians have to be reminded that we are a British colony. The CNS website is packed with protests against Britain’s insistence on a balanced government budget. “Imperialism!” “Slavery!” “Exploitation!”

In fact, our colonial status is secured by a contract freely entered into by our Caymanian legislators. All the terms are clear and out in the open. There are no hidden protocols. What you see is what you get. Britain is in charge of Cayman’s finances- and indeed everything else. It delegates some areas of responsibility to the local MLAs, but all legislation still has to be approved by our Governor before it comes into force. He is not the token figurehead some Caymanians think he is. Sure, he must do what he’s told by the FCO; our MLAs have no authority over him.

This reality is apparent in the current squabble over our government’s 2011 Budget. The FCO is withholding its consent until it sees evidence that government’s core operating expenditure will be less than its core operating income. For years, the British government has privately warned successive Cayman Islands Cabinets against over-spending. The warnings had no effect. It was like telling little boys that eating too much cake will make them sick. Well, our little boys did eat too much cake, and now they’re sick. At least, they’re sick with anger because Mummy has taken the cake away.

Most communities of our size in the world are constitutionally required to balance their budgets. There’s nothing unique about Cayman in that regard. Our figures are a bit bigger than the typical small community, but we’re not unique in that, either. There are plenty of communities of 50,000 people in the UK and US that are as rich as we are, per capita. Unfortunately, we combine high Public Revenue and Expenditure with a high level of governmental incompetence. Like the little boys and the cake, our MLAs’ eyes were bigger than their stomachs.

Now they must choose between higher revenue and lower expenses. Reducing expenses is the sensible choice, if they could but see it. (Let them eat less cake!) Our little boys have over-spent their allowances, and now Mummy is telling them to stop spending. Sigh. That’s what Mummies are there for, though, isn’t it? Raising their allowances would simply encourage them to buy more cake! Which they would eat! And get even sicker! And – ugh – I’m not sure where I’m going with this...

Unfortunately, our little-boy MLAs have never learnt to discipline themselves. They are self-centred and self-indulgent. It’s partly Mummy’s fault. She should have taken the damn cake away long before now. During the past forty or fifty years our local rulers have never had to pull in their horns. The money has kept pouring in as fast as they were able to spend it. They had to burn the midnight oil thinking up new and sillier ways to spend it. God forbid that they should save for a rainy day. The forecast was always bright. We are God’s people. He will never let us down; he will always make sure we have enough cake. Right, God? God? Are you there?

The temptation to build extravagant vanity projects (PPM), the excitement of unlimited First-Class travel (UDP) – “self-indulgence” scarcely does justice to the folly. We have a Premier- oh, my! Brighton Town Council has a Cabinet these days, so it probably has a Premier as well. Titles are depreciating as fast as currencies and college degrees. Generalissimo, that’s what we should write into our next Constitution.

You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Cry, is my advice.