September 28, 2020

NO TO NO CONFIDENCE: Bush survives PPM challenge after late vote

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In a straight 9-5 party-line vote capping a marathon Legislative Assembly session, United Democratic Party (UDP) lawmakers yesterday defeated an opposition no-confidence motion, a referendum on Premier McKeeva Bush.

Starting Wednesday afternoon — and finishing at 2:30am on Thursday – incumbent UDP MLAs and opposition People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) legislators, joined by North Side independent Ezzard Miller, debated the 23-point motion brought by PPM leader Alden McLaughlin, who ultimately conceded defeat, but promised to continue to test government actions.

“The marathon session has made people uncomfortable, and a great deal has been said, in particular why the Leader of the Opposition brought this motion,” Mr McLaughlin said, closing the debate, admitting that he never had the 10 votes necessary for passage.

“We had hoped to bring some of the more thoughtful [UDP] members, but we had an early indication there would be solidarity. We just hope this motion has forced the government to change course. This has been an exercise in democracy and a test of government, of whether we continue to repose confidence in this administration,” he said.

Mr McLaughlin initiated the debate in the early afternoon, suggesting UDP manipulation of Parliamentary processes had delayed the motion since its 27 April submission, rendering some of it irrelevant and forcing withdrawal of the 22nd – regarding schools contractor Tom Jones International — of the document’s original 24 points.

Mr McLaughlin assailed the UDP on crime, accusing Mr Bush of dodging responsibility, then probed corruption allegations against the premier, citing Governor Duncan Taylor and an investigation by Commissioner of Police David Baines into 2004 “financial irregularities”.

Amid shouted UDP protests, Speaker Mary Lawrence forced Mr McLaughlin to stop reading a letter he had written to Mr Taylor, querying details of the police probe.

“You are quoting your own personal assumptions and I will not allow it,” she said. “You will NOT be reading further in this letter.”

Continuing, Mr McLaughlin gave the UDP “not just a failing grade, but an ‘F’ in the way this country is being led and steered”, particularly in regard to Mr Bush’s role on the crime-fighting National Security Council.

He also touched on the abortive 2010 $155 million government loan arranged by the premier from New York’s Cohen and Co, saying it cost the country $450,000 and was probably illegal. A second 2010 loan, of $30.2 million from Britain’s Banque Haviland, he said, resulted in Mr Bush and “some of his soldiers” accepting a bank-owned, private plane ride “back to these islands just about the time of the $30 million loan.”

“If we could be persuaded that the government learned from its mistakes, had seen the error of its ways, we could forgive it, but the response,” he said, “has been to shoot the messengers,” a reference to a series of insults leveled at his critics, especially Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick, whom Mr Bush called “a hitman”.

Responding, Mr Bush said the UDP was deeply worried about crime, but was constitutionally limited by the authority of the governor and police commissioner.

“The Leader of the Opposition is trying to lay everything at my feet so people will be upset with me and pounce on me,” he told the chamber.

“I listen to the heartbeat of this country, and no one does it better than McKeeva Bush,” he said. “They [PPM] cannot smear me and get away with it. I have been around too long.”

He rejected criticism of overspending on travel, saying overseas contact was a critical part of his duties as both premier and minister of finance. He charged the PPM with spending $11.5 million on travel during its 2005-2009 term and pointed out that “the world is watching us and everything we do. The US, UK and most metropolitan countries are enemies” of Cayman’s financial-services industry, he said.

Both Mr Bush and his UDP colleagues reminded lawmakers of the $25 million budget surplus achieved this year, recovering from last years $15 million dollar deficit, itself, they said, a remarkable improvement from the $81 million deficit left in 2009 by the PPM.

“We have refunded stamp duty and certain fees to Caymanians,” he said, rejecting charges he had ignored citizens, and pointed to duty waivers, a government mortgage-assistance programme and 200 scholarships to local students.

He also detailed efforts to build cruise-ship berths in George Town and Spotts, and described the employment and economic growth that will be spurred by the $1.2 billion ForCayman Investment Alliance with Dart Realty.

Only the PPM’s Kurt Tibbetts and Arden McLean —  absent due to illness — did not speak, while the UDP’s Eugene Ebanks and Cline Glidden also failed to take the floor. And finally, as Speaker Lawrence polled the MLAs, Mr McLaughlin conceded defeat: “They made it clear they are content and happy to continue. So be it.”

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