Editorial for 23 July: Reining in civil service travel

It was well past time, in our view, for the Cayman Islands government to enact a sensible civil service travel policy.

Quite frankly, we are tired of the reports brought to the public’s attention in recent years surrounding what is obviously blatant misuse of government-issued credit cards and pointless $42,000 trips by public servants to places like Doha, Qatar for the “25th Universal Postal Conference” of all things. 

The Portfolio of the Civil Service and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson have done yeoman’s work in crafting a 17-page comprehensive outline of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour for public servants on official business. It appears that Premier Alden McLaughlin and government ministers will also be abiding by the dictates of this policy, which is all to the good. 

The policy is quite clear in what is disallowed for reimbursement during employees’ official travel. There is a list about a page long in the policy, and government officials should take note. 

For instance, public servants will not be reimbursed for drinks at the bar while on official business. First class aeroplane travel for government business will no longer be expensed, nor will rental car or flight upgrades not previously approved by department managers, the deputy governor or the governor. 

Frills such as expensing new evening wear for an event or entertaining guests (read: more bar tabs) while away will not be reimbursed, according to the travel policy. 

The general idea is to reduce the need for government employees to travel through the use of modern technology like teleconferencing or video conferencing, or, failing that, to bring individuals to the Cayman Islands for training and educational purposes. If official travel is truly needed to facilitate face-to-face meetings, then individuals who are privileged to engage in such activity must account for every public dollar they spend. 

There is one difficulty we see in all these restrictions, or perhaps two. First, good policies are necessary for any democratic government, but effective enforcement is required to make those plans work. We see nothing in the new travel policy that indicates what will happen to those who violate its principles, other than a vague reference to “disciplinary action”. We suppose the proof will be to watch what occurs when a government worker does not adhere to the policy’s tenets. 

Second, we wonder about the premier of the country and other top officials, such as the governor, deputy premier and the deputy governor, being restricted from travelling in first class. We’re glad that Mr. McLaughlin has so far attempted to spend the public’s money wisely on travel, but the fact is Cayman is a first-class country with a first-class economy. We don’t necessarily want our top leaders being packed into “coach” for fear that it will denigrate the puissance of their high offices. 

Both issues are something to consider going forward, but we believe this travel policy for the civil service is an overdue first step in the right direction.