Editorial for September 11: Cayman-style ‘austerity’

 In Tuesday’s newspaper, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson had this to say about the state of the Cayman Islands civil service: “Morale has been weakened by salary cuts and other severe austerity measures.”

Today, we see how lawmakers nonetheless made sure to remember their own pocketbooks when approving the government’s supplementary appropriations.

In a nutshell, 10 backbench and opposition legislators received nearly CI$240,000 for the two-month period between the dissolution of parliament and the May 22 general election.

That’s $12,000 per month per person. Keep in mind that as non-ministers, those 10 politicians had no official responsibilities after the House was dissolved. Here we purposely describe them as “politicians” because all were actively running for re-election during that time period.

Meanwhile, funding remains inadequate for more necessary measures such as road projects, mental health care and after-school programs.

We realize the supplementary appropriation had been done once before in 2009, and did not constitute an actual pay raise for the legislators, but meant the lawmakers received their full annual paycheck during an election year, even though they weren’t working as legislators for part of the year.

In the private sector, you could liken it to paid leave or a guaranteed bonus.
Given lawmakers’ espousals of belt-tightening and salary-freezing, this supplementary appropriation sends a message of selfishness and cynicism to civil servants, the vast majority of whom make far, far less than the elected members.
Various tropes can be applied to the scenario, such as, “Do as we say, not as we do,” or “It’s good to be the king.”

We’ll call it “austerity, Cayman style.”

During the past two budget years, the total remuneration bestowed upon the 18 individuals at the top of government – including the governor, deputy governor, speaker of the house and lawmakers – was more than $6 million, or $167,000 per year per person.

Combine the legislators’ assurance of their own payday with the inflated salaries of multitudinous bigwigs in the bloated, top-heavy government bureaucracy, as well as the continuing explosion of statutory authorities and government-owned companies, and it’s no wonder if rank-and-file civil servants feel shortchanged.

It’s especially understandable considering how a modest cost of living pay increase has twice now been dangled in front of civil servants and yanked away, in a manner reminiscent of the old dollar-bill-on-a-fishing-line gag.

The great thing about democracy is the ones who are ultimately pulling the strings are the voters. Incidentally, the single largest bloc of Caymanian voters are these very same rank-and-file civil servants.

The outcome of the May election was not only an endorsement of the People’s Progressive Movement, but, we feel, a repudiation of government excess and unaccountable spending.

Our lawmakers would be wise to keep that at the forefront of their minds as they discharge their duties of governance with public money. The next election will be here before you know it.