Editorial for October 2: Civil service review: Must we?

Annual rites define individual cultures. Here in the Cayman Islands, we have mango season, Pirates Week, sand yards at Christmastime and, lately, reviews of the public sector with the aim of shrinking government.

Today, this newspaper has a story on the possibility that government may embark upon its fourth such review in as many years. Since 2010, we’ve seen the third-party Miller-Shaw consultancy report, a review started by former Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks and the “Project 1” restructuring effort.

As we’ve seen over and over again, these kinds of reviews result in substantial recommendations being disregarded, the status quo being maintained and substantial reforms being put off to another day.
With all due respect to current Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, we see no reason why taxpayers’ money should be allocated to purchase more expertise from outside of government on the issue of right-sizing the public sector.

The government already has reams of reviews, reports and recommendations on how and where to cut. Let’s start by weaning government from commissioning third-party consultants to perform tasks that clearly fall within the government’s own purview.

While it may not be fair to compare Cayman’s government with private entities that manage to function in the real world, it’s worth pointing out that businesses and households make tough decisions every day on how to tailor expenses to revenues. In the case of local government, the onus falls squarely on the shoulders of top civil servants.

In the past, former Premier McKeeva Bush has correctly pointed out that elected ministers do not have the direct authority to reduce the size of the civil service. Rather, ministers create the budget, and it is then up to chief officers and civil servants to determine how exactly to function within that budget.

It’s probably a good thing that the power to downsize the civil service doesn’t rest solely with politicians because the exercise of such power would surely then never occur, considering the civil service is the single largest voting bloc in Cayman.

As current Premier Alden McLaughlin said, the typical responses to budget reductions have been “cost containment” measures, such as holding off on buying supplies or filling certain positions, that are not true cuts and are not sustainable in the long term. Other tactics include ignoring the budget and awaiting supplementary appropriations.

Those sorts of stopgaps should not be relied upon. It is the clear responsibility of Mr. Manderson and his team of chief officers to identify real solutions and put them into action. That is precisely what we, the taxpaying public, are paying them for.

Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, people will be hurt. But, yes, it’s better than the alternative: the sacrifice of Cayman’s private sector to finance our bloated public sector.

The impenetrable veil of protectionism enveloping the civil service must be pierced.

No more delays. No more Band-Aids. No more reports to be filed away under “soon come.”

As our American neighbors are demonstrating, with their government partially shutdown, no country can ignore its fiscal realities forever.