From December 2009 to June 2012, spending from the Cayman Islands “Nation Building Fund” topped $9.5 million, with nearly half of that going to some 20 churches and church groups.
Records obtained from the Ministry of Tourism and Development indicate that religious groups received $4.6 million from the fund during the first three budget cycles of its existence. The Caymanian Compass has also requested information on Nation Building Fund expenses since July 2012.
In addition to church grants, nearly $3.0 million was spent in grants to other individuals and organisations. About $1.5 million was awarded to 99 “YNBP Scholars”.
That means that 48 per cent of the Nation Building Fund expenses went to churches, 31 per cent went to various grants, and 16 per cent went for students’ education.
Of the $4.6 million given to religious groups, half went to two churches – Wesleyan Holiness Church West Bay, which received $1.3 million, and Church of God Bodden Town, which received $1 million.
In 2011, Wesleyan Holiness received planning permission to build a $2 million, two-storey church hall with classrooms and apartments next to the existing church on North West Point Road. The church hall has not been built.
Church of God Bodden Town is in the process of building a “multipurpose hall” that will serve as a hurricane shelter on Shamrock Road. The estimated cost of the building is just under $4 million, as reported in early 2011. Work on the more than 20,000 square foot building began in 2010 and has proceeded in fits and starts, and stops, since then.
Other groups receiving nation building fund money include Church of God West Bay ($450,000), Seventh Day Adventist Church West Bay ($275,000), Light of the World Christian Fellowship ($180,000), All Nation United Pentecostal ($175,000), New Testament Church West Bay ($130,000), 90 & 9 Outreach Ministry ($125,000), Church of God Frank Sound ($125,000), Wesleyan Holiness Church George Town ($122,585), Covenant Moravian Church ($104,991) and Seventh Day Adventist Church ($100,000).
The subject of the Nation Building Fund grants to local churches was a hot topic at a candidates forum held Wednesday night at the University College of the Cayman Islands.
“Absolutely, unequivocally, I believe that the money that was given to those churches amounts to nothing more than corruption,” said People’s Progressive Movement George Town candidate Marco Archer, who received big applause for the statement from the roughly 80 people who attended the debate.
“If you look at the way the money was given, it was going to select churches,” Mr. Archer said. “It was not given publicly, it was given under the table.”
Coalition for Cayman-endorsed candidate Roy McTaggart also voiced his objection to the way the church grants were handled.
“Smells like vote-buying to me, one way or another,” Mr. McTaggart said.
Deputy Premier Rolston Anglin, a former member of the United Democratic Party government that approved the Nation Building Fund grants, said the issue about church funding wasn’t so cut and dried as others tried to make out.
“There’s a wider public policy issue here,” Mr. Anglin said. “If the new policy is for government not to support [nongovernmental organisations] ... there’s going to be a big paradigm shift in this country,”
Mr. Anglin said a process needs to be put in place in the future to ensure fairness when such community grants are issued.
Mr. Archer said that was not the case with the Nation Building Fund church grants. He said, for instance, the Presbyterian church he attends in West Bay might be a good spot for a community hurricane shelter, as it occupies one of the highest points in the district.
However, no approaches were made to the church about establishing such a shelter, Mr. Archer said.
“The simple reason for that is that at least two candidates from that church have contested elections against McKeeva Bush,” Mr. Archer said.
Of the $3 million spent on grants, about half of that went to the Pines Retirement Home for its expansion project. Other entities receiving major grant amounts include Cayman Traditional Arts ($120,000), boxer Charles Whittaker ($100,000) and the Cayman Islands Scouts Association ($100,000).
The funds to Cayman Traditional Arts were given in the form of two equal payments in August 2011 and January 2012, for the group’s after school programme “Bringing Heritage to Life”.
Mr. Whittaker received the $100,000 in March 2011. Mr. Whittaker has said the money was used to promote his June 2011 boxing event at Camana Bay. He said the money was used to pay for boxers’ purses, travel, accommodation, per diem, advertising and other expenses.
Additionally, another $31,050 was spent from the Nation Building Fund in June 2012 for boxing-related expenses. Bennett’s Architecture Design & Concepts was paid $6,050 for architectural drafting and design for a West Bay boxing gym, while Robson Construction Ltd. was paid $25,000 as a deposit on West Bay boxing gym renovations. In October 2012, the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development received planning permission for a $150,000 project to renovate an existing building on Flute Lane to turn it from a restaurant/guest house into a boxing gym.
In June 2012, the Scouts Association received $100,000 from the fund to assist with building its new headquarters. In September 2012, the Scouts Association received planning permission for a $550,000 project consisting of a two-storey headquarters on Middle Road in George Town.
Former Cabinet Secretary Orrett Connor is now leading the effort to boost the scouts programme in the Cayman Islands and recently pointed the funding the centre received from public and private sources as one of the more worthwhile community efforts proceeding in the islands.
“We will have several youth organisations in one building [including scouts, girl guides and the Girls Brigade],” Mr. Connor said during a recent interview. “That will put a face to scouting in the Cayman Islands again in terms of having a home or our own.
“We’re trying get away from that whole thing that scouting is just camping and tying knots; we have to prepare the young people for what is out there now as well.”
Other grant recipients include the governments of St. Lucia and St. Vincent for hurricane relief ($83,750), Cayman National Cultural Foundation ($75,000), Kem Jackson for his efforts with the Cayman Catboat Club ($65,000), hurricane shutters for unidentified parties ($64,879.79), Superior Auto for its auto mechanics training programme ($61,000), and James Anglin of Goldfinger Entertainment for a “One Year Programme for Development of Musical Talent” of singer Jeffrey Wilson ($60,000).
The $60,000 Anglin/Goldfinger/Wilson grant was made in May 2011. Mr. Wilson subsequently received another $8,000 in March 2012, for the purpose of “additional funding for Goldfinger Entertainment”.
Other grants recipients include the Hope for Today Foundation ($55,000), Tony Powell for the refurbishment of a private museum on Boggy Sand Road ($54,800), National Gallery of the Cayman Islands ($50,000), Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs for the closed-circuit television monitoring system ($45,000), Randyke Gardens to address sewage issues ($40,000), and Barry Martinez ($35,000).
Mr. Martinez received a $10,344.38 ‘payment’ in April 2010 from the fund, and a $24,655.62 ‘settlement payment’ in September 2010. Mr. Martinez at the time was a member of the National Roads Authority Board of Directors.
The $1.5 million in scholarship payments went to 99 people who aren’t identified. The number of scholars and amount of payments grew dramatically over the three year period, with two people receiving less than $18,000 in 2009/10; 20 people receiving more than $360,000 in 2010/11; and about 90 students receiving more than $1.1 million in 2011/12.
The values of the individual scholarships range from hundreds of dollars to a maximum of nearly $67,000, which was given to an individual to pay off a student loan from the Cayman Islands Development Bank.
In 2011, nearly $46,000 was spent from the Nation Building Fund for expenses related to Barkers National Park. Of that, more than $43,000 went to five consultants, including Curtis Bush ($12,000), Floyd Bush ($3,300), Andre Jackson ($9,000), Sarah Orrett ($9,900) and Waldo Parchment ($9,052).
Additionally, some $365,000 (most of it during the 2009/10 budget year) was given to local subcontractors who had been owed money by Matrix International, a company who signed a deal with the government in March 2007 to remove thousands of tons of scrap metal that had accumulated in the George Town dump. The company ended up paying government only $310,000 of a promised $1.25 million for the scrap, and it was declared in default of its contract in September 2007.
Nearly $58,000 went to the Jubilee Park/Christian Heritage Monument, a concept that has been shelved, at least temporarily. Minister Rolston Anglin said the current budget does not include funding for the park and monument behind the Legislative Assembly. The Compass has requested information about all money that has been spent on the park and monument.
In January 2012, the Office of the Premier indicated that Cabinet had approved funding of $1 million for the Jubilee Park project. However funding for the project did not appear in the supplemental budget for that year.