For the past 20 years the Cayman Islands Government has striven to reform itself and its work. In some notable instances our outcomes have been such that it is understandable, if some wonder whether it will take another two decades to get the job done.
In the past year, which has been my first as Deputy Governor and head of the civil service, I have gained valuable insight into the challenges that the organisation faces, as it struggles to be modern, relevant, effective and efficient in a time of economic constraint.
My conclusion is that, by its very nature, civil service reform is likely to always be ongoing, as the organisation seeks to meet the dynamic and changing needs of the society that it serves. At the same time I believe that accountability and innovation are critical to ensuring that we reach successful milestones on this journey. The remainder of this article discusses at more length how we are working to enshrine those characteristics in the heart of the civil service.
Accountability is paramount for the civil service as a whole and to the individual civil servant. As head of the service, I incorporate this principle in my work wherever I can. I hold weekly meetings with my senior management team of Chief Officers, and publish the minutes both internally and externally.
I also work hard to be a visible and engaged leader, including visiting agencies and their staff that reside outside of the Government Administration Building, such as the Department of Environmental Health, the Public Works Department and District Administration. In addition I use the social media channel Facebook to share developments inside the civil service.
At an operational level, accountability means government agencies should be proactive and comprehensive in sharing with the public, who are our paymasters, information about what we do, what we achieve, and, in particular how we reach the decisions that guide our delivery of services. This philosophy is enshrined in the Freedom of Information Law. Its’ ideal outcome is the creation of a culture of openness and transparency in which the public can at any time and in any place access information about the work of Government, requiring recourse to the FOI process only as a last resort.
For such a culture to take root in any organisation, it must be enshrined at the level of the individual. In my view, in both instances, this begins with performance management. Like all employees, civil servants–should be told what is expected of them at the beginning of each year, monitored throughout the year, and held accountable at the end of the year for results. The same is equally true of the organisation. This is hardly rocket science, but it has largely eluded us up to this point.
Since taking up the position of Deputy Governor I have focused on the area of individual performance management. When I took office only 14% of civil servants had written performance agreements. I have managed to increase that to 97%.
Of course this renewed emphasis on performance has engendered a need within the CIG to more precisely define what distinguishes a high flying staff member, from a mediocre or even a poor performer. In my experience, star performers work smarter and faster than their colleagues. They also stay current with the latest developments in their field–technological and otherwise–and are readily conversant on how this can be used to enhance government performance.
The role of technology, I believe, is sufficiently central to improving government results that it is worth considering in more depth. Around the world the private sector has long been using Information and Communications Technology to deliver very sophisticated services and governments have been quick to follow suit.
Given our place on the international financial services stage, it behooves the CIG to strategically consider how it might do the same. Certainly public servants are increasingly well aware of the mounting pressure to use technology to cut through red tape and improve service delivery, thereby also reducing administrative burdens as well as attendant costs.
New Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose, who has responsibility for the Computer Services Department, has been tasked with moving forward the adoption of ICT to deliver more streamlined CIG services. I have already discussed this with the Premier who wholeheartedly supports the initiative. We both believe that it will speed the removal of some of the cumbersome administrative regulations that are just another barrier to innovation.
A recent study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business indicated that government red tape costs the business sector $30.5 billion dollars per year or equivalent to 1.9 % of GDP. I think it is safe to assume that here in the Cayman Islands; we are subject to a similar trend. To this end my office has also recently partnered with the Department of Commerce and Investment and the Chamber of Commerce, to develop an initiative called “Cutting Red Tape” that will seek to address the hindrance that local businesses suggest government bureaucracy poses to economic development.
Focusing on innovation and information technology in this fashion will, I believe, move the Cayman Islands Civil Service closer towards a path of continual self-improvement that will also transform how we are perceived by business and the public. I am fortunate that on this journey towards change, I have the strong support of a team of outstanding Chief Officers.
Private sector organisations that fail to satisfy market needs soon go out of business. This may never happen to the CIG. At the same time if the Civil Service does not change to satisfy our customers’ needs, we will fail to optimise our country’s development potential. This would breach the burden of care that we bear for our country and our people. As such it is unthinkable.
In my next article I will deal in more detail with the subject of Civil Service Reform and the challenges of driving change in the Civil Service.