Editorial for October 1: Roads to nowhere

While it may be true that Grand Cayman boasts some of the best roads in the Caribbean, Cayman Brac’s may be even better, thanks to millions of public dollars spent paving streets and private parking lots.

We recently learned that National Roads Authority paving equipment and employees remain in the Brac. Meanwhile, the roads authority is being forced to rent equipment and staff from private companies to do paving work in Grand Cayman – that is, when the roads authority has any money to disburse at all. Edward Howard, acting head of the roads authority, recently said the amount of paving being done on Grand Cayman is “far less than is needed.”

Remember that the next time you find yourself on the roadside changing a tire burst on a crater-like pothole downtown.

For the sake of perspective, Grand Cayman is home to more than 50,000 people and hosts millions of cruise and stay-over visitors per year. Cayman Brac has a population of less than 2,000 and a relatively small number of tourists.

We’re all for legislators representing their individual districts, and we aren’t naïve to the political practicality of bringing home the occasional “pork-barrel” project. It’s no coincidence the Cayman Brac paving initiative occurred under the aegis of Sister Islands MLA (and former Premier) Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and continues under fellow Sister Islands MLA (and Deputy Premier) Moses Kirkconnell.

However, the plain fact is Cayman Brac is benefitting from a disproportionate share of precious transportation resources, while Grand Cayman’s streets are deteriorating, and no money is being allocated for any new road projects that are required to facilitate expected future growth.

Something is clearly amiss. Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick sensed it in his 2012 report on Cayman Brac paving.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of the narrative was the ministry’s response to the report, which as Mr. Swarbrick described in 2012, was one of utter indifference. “They see it as no problem in terms of paving private parking lots,” he said.

It was apparently also not considered a problem that the ministry’s handpicked project manager was Colford Scott, who at the time was chairman of the roads authority’s board of directors.

The auditor general referred the Cayman Brac paving matter to the attorney general, and last year was considering alerting the Anti-Corruption Commission. As far as we know, there have been no consequences whatsoever and no serious investigation.

Meanwhile, the roads authority staggers along with inadequate funding, unclear leadership and no defined vision of its own future. The only major road building in Grand Cayman in the past year has been the new thoroughfare to West Bay, paid for by the private sector, namely the Dart Group. 

Since the authority’s former managing director Brian Tomlinson was ousted under contentious circumstances in late June 2012, Mr. Howard and Paul Parchment have taken turns auditioning for the top post in six month stints. From what we can tell, they’ve both performed satisfactorily, but that rotational arrangement is simply not sustainable.

A year ago, the roads authority submitted its recommendations to the ministry regarding trimming the agency, following comments attributed to Ms O’Connor-Connolly about transforming the agency into a regulatory authority.

Central government still has yet to grace the roads authority with a formal reply.

Amid this shambles of a situation, an entirely new board of directors has been appointed to oversee the authority. We wish them the best of luck and hope they exercise their powers with more discretion than the previous board.

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