Moving toward good governance

Read our article in The Chamber Magazine, eversion 

Good governance has become a global buzz word of late and something about which we are hearing candidates for the 22 May General Election opine.

But good governance is about more than just honest politicians, either elected or aspiring. It includes those who work within and with government and involves rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, consensus among all involved, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, accountability and participation.

Governance typically involves well-intentioned people who bring their ideas, experiences, preferences and other human strengths and shortcomings to the policy-making table. Good governance is achieved through an on-going discourse that attempts to capture all of the considerations involved in assuring that stakeholder interests are addressed and reflected in policy initiatives.

Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick has had much to say about good governance during his tenure in the Cayman Islands thus far. In 2011 he concluded that basic failures to regulate, manage and operate government purchases have left the Cayman Islands wasting millions of dollars each year in buying what it needs.

“We concluded that the government of the Cayman Islands is mismanaging the procurement of supplies, services and assets resulting in a lack of efficiency, transparency and fairness as well as costing the government millions of dollars more than necessary,” his report read. “If not addressed immediately, the procurement activities will continue to be at significant risk of waste, abuse and potentially fraud and corruption.”

The auditor’s findings also revealed significant political interference in the contract bidding and procurement process.

Swarbrick said the handling of the bidding and procurement process revealed “little regard to the consideration of value for money” within government.

“I am extremely concerned by the absence of senior management leadership across the public services to ensure there is effective and efficient procurement,’ the auditor general said.

“This … has led to every manager in government doing what they believe is appropriate to implement … obligations. The behaviours of officials were far from ideal and have led to a significant waste of money.”

To ensure good governance in the instance of spending, auditors recommended, among other things, that government create a ‘chief procurement officer’ position and said entities might reconsider the use of departmental tenders committees; those are small groups of civil servants and, in some cases, private sector representatives that assist in evaluating bids.

One of the problems with good governance in the Cayman Islands is the failure of government departments and agencies to provide thorough financial statements in a timely manner as well as government’s failure to be transparent with certain contracts.

When the UK got wind of contracts involving redevelopment of the cruise ship port and Owen Roberts International Airport on Grand Cayman, it put its foot down.

“It has been made very clear to us by the UK government that the procurement processes that were being proposed and attempted both for the airport and cruise port did not fall in line with what we refer to as good practice and neither one of those proposals will be supported or allowed to move forward,” said Tourism Minister Cline Glidden earlier this year.

He added that while, for the most part, funds for the project – generated by fees specifically relating to the airport expansion – were in place, the government and the Cayman Islands Airports Authority had to show the UK government that the proper procurement practice would be in place before any work could go ahead.

The UK’s mandate shows that good governance isn’t just a local issue for the Cayman Islands, but a global one too.

The top pillar of Cayman’s economy is the Financial Industry, which relies on the country’s reputation to attract investors and employees.

While the arrest of former premier McKeeva Bush late last year could have harmed the reputation of the Cayman Islands, those in the Financial Industry put a positive spin on the issue. David Marchant, the publisher of Offshore Alert, noted the arrest may ultimately have a positive effect for Cayman’s reputation.

“Strange though this might seem, I believe it will have a positive effect on Cayman’s reputation internationally because it demonstrates the jurisdiction is prepared to take action against individuals regardless of status.”

Marchant said the measure of any country or jurisdiction is not that scandals occur but what it does about them when they surface.

“The worst thing any jurisdiction can do is bury its head in the sand. This has been the traditional approach in Cayman and the jurisdiction’s reputation overseas has suffered because of it. With one action today, that has changed for the better,”.

The Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce concurred, stating the arrest “demonstrates Cayman’s robust law enforcement and anti-corruption systems and the Islands’ intolerance with any alleged unethical behaviour or corruption even at the highest level of political office”.

At the helm of attempting to ensure good governance is implemented throughout government is Deputy Governor Franz Manderson whose remit is, in part, the Civil Service.

“We need to ensure that existing civil servants are properly trained and equipped to do their jobs, that we are promoting people based on merit and that new people coming into the civil service understand very clearly what their roles are,” Manderson says.

To that end, about 250 people who are relatively new employees in the Cayman Islands civil service have been put through an orientation programme upon starting their job in the local government.

“This programme is separate from what they will have at the department or ministry level – this is civil service wide,” Manderson says. “This is training about becoming a good civil servant; a focus on exceeding customer expectations, delivering what the customer wants – not what we perceive them to want–and a focus on honesty and integrity.”

The training includes anti-corruption and human rights guidelines and generally what kind of customer service is expected. Orientation classes have averaged about 35 people and include civil servants from all types of jobs; from police officers, teachers, public works employees; everything.

With 3,551 civil servants employed in central government as of February, 250 seems a relatively small number but government officials just started in April 2012. “What I want to emphasise is exceeding customers’ expectations, that is my mantra,” Manderson says.

“That is what our goal must be.”

There are some exceptional opportunities for civil servants to improve themselves and assist in their own career paths, both Caymanian and non-Caymanian. Government workers can attend the Civil Service College on the University College of the Cayman Islands campus and gain up to an associates’ degree in public administration, or take a number of certificate courses in other areas. Manderson says there are about 1,000 government employees enrolled in the college.

“That’s a huge success for us,” he says.

So once a government employee has improved their education and prepped themselves for career advancement…they run into a glass ceiling where people who’ve been in the service 20-30 years holding all the top management jobs and get stuck at mid-level, right?

Deputy Governor Manderson says he’s never bought that argument, but if it is true to any extent, it’s going to change under this leadership.

 

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