Take the medicine

A recent statement from government reported that the two high schools under construction will more than likely cost double the original estimate. The country could be faced with an overall bill approaching $200 million.

These projects have already suffered a number of setbacks. Dissatisfaction with the design and layout, programme delays, closure, disputes and the original contracted parties embroiled in litigation.

All of those setbacks add costs and the litigation itself could be lengthy and expensive.

The final bill may eventually be even higher as the fit-out and finishing stage often incurs more changes. Only a few construction projects are completed on budget as there are many intangibles in putting together any project and in particular two originally estimated at a total of 100 million dollars. All details cannot reasonably be foreseen at the outset and many decisions cannot be taken until works occur on site.

These two schools would be no different and one could expect some increased costs but within some pre assessed parameters. Doubling the cost of the projects can only be described as an extraordinary feat. The news, and at this stage of the programme, is stunning.

One cannot surmise how and why this has happened. The overrun obviously requires scrutiny. $100 million, in addition to the original $100 million, is a lot of construction.

There is, however, nothing to be gained at this time by trying to identify scapegoats or to have the political parties blaming each other in heated debate. There is nothing to be gained by targeting elected government, either past or present. Both appear to have been naïve and whilst the responsibility ultimately lies at the top, both are assumed to have been guided by a team of consultants, experts and professionals who are being paid to report, advise, recommend and direct.

An audit or some form of enquiry may well have to be considered. That would add further expense; however, it would be the responsible approach. It is important that the facts be known and made public. How were the budgets calculated? What was included and excluded? How have the funds been disbursed? What was the cost of certain elements of the construction and compared to budget? How much has been paid in fees and expenses (in particular to offshore consultants) and how much is still to be paid? Why did we accept and pay for shoddy work, if indeed it exists, and why are we paying to correct it could also be queried ?.

With such a substantial overrun it is not unreasonable for those paying the bill to be made aware of the facts.

With the current economic climate, and a government appearing to survive from day-to-day financially, it is a bitter pill for the Cayman Islands to swallow but swallow it the country must.

The people of the Cayman Islands must take their medicine as construction cannot now be stopped.

The alternative is dire.

Substantial funds invested with no return, two unfinished buildings gathering weeds and dust, unfinished construction deteriorating daily and spiralling costs to complete if the projects are subjected to another closure. There are many other consequences, including potential further lawsuits, but more importantly a generation of children continue to be denied proper facilities for their basic education.

The existing facilities are inadequate and have been for years. Further improvements to the existing facilities are impractical and costly.

The only conclusion is that the two schools must be finished and finished quickly and responsibly.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learnt.

The Cayman Prep High School recently completed a new building. The building, which is perfectly acceptable architecturally, is hurricane proof and can accommodate in excess of 400 students. Data obtained from experts involved in that development shows that the building accommodates state of the art science and IT labs, a library and a number of classrooms. The building is about 28,000 SF on three floors. It was built in a year or so and meets high standards throughout. It was designed, constructed and supervised by a small team of local experts and professionals who were paid reasonable and affordable fees.

It was constructed within its original budget and occupied on time. This building cost approximately $5 million.

One lesson to be learnt is to understand what one can afford and budget accordingly. When buying a car one has a choice of a basic model or a top-of-the-line luxury vehicle. In the end one still has a car. Another lesson is to seek advice and guidance from local experts and professionals. Unless an issue has a local conflict or is beyond available local expertise, there is no requirement to employ overseas consultants who have little if any knowledge and experience of our standards and society

The ongoing employment of overseas consultants on a variety of straightforward issues casts aspersions on the expertise here in the Cayman Islands. It can add unnecessary expense to the public purse. The practice reflects an unacceptable lack of confidence in local business which continues to strive to build the Cayman community. The belief that some of our problems can only be solved by overlooking local knowledge and seeking overseas advice is outdated and redundant.

After all it is local business and the Caymanian community who directly or indirectly end up paying the bill.