Millions for communications — And ‘no comment’?

In recent weeks, this newspaper has published considerable editorial comment on the issue of the George Town Landfill, singling out Environmental Health Minister Osbourne Bodden for special scrutiny.

We haven’t intended for Minister Bodden’s viewpoint to remain absent from the pages of this newspaper. That’s been his choice.

His decision to go underground is part of a larger pattern of ducking and dodging by the ruling Progressives government. The PPM’s official press strategy, it appears, is to avoid the press. Last week, Premier McLaughlin denounced holding weekly Cabinet press briefings, saying he would not “let the media take potshots at us” – in other words, field unvetted questions in public.

The Compass has in its possession a memo from Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose, dated Nov. 7, instructing chief officers that “major announcements, important press releases or new public relations initiatives” must now be routed through the premier’s Press Secretary Tammie Chisholm before being sent to the media.
The directive applies to all central government, statutory authorities and government companies.

The goal, according to the memo, is “to avoid situations where Ministers and Members of Cabinet are taken by surprise by important official announcements.”

Government has created a situation where a lone, politically appointed gatekeeper controls the flow of information from all of government, despite the scores of public employees engaged in, and millions of dollars spent on, communications, marketing and public relations, including Government Information Services, which churns out nonstop government-aggrandizing press releases that, frankly, go from their computers to media house wastepaper baskets. The government also has its own dedicated television channel and, inappropriately, owns and funds Radio Cayman. Collectively, in our times of so-called fiscal austerity, this is a high-cost, but largely ineffective, governmental propaganda machine.

But back to Minister Bodden and his silence on the landfill. For the record, the Caymanian Compass’s position on solid waste management is clear: Remediate the current dump site. Create a new facility. Follow public finance laws. Do not discriminate for or against any particular district.

The newspaper has been critical of the political arrangement among Premier Alden McLaughlin and the four members from Bodden Town, which resulted in Mr. Bodden’s appointment to head the ministry in charge of the dump.

One of Minister Bodden’s first official acts was to repudiate the Dart Group’s $59 million offer to remediate the George Town landfill and create the first phase of a new facility near Midland Acres. Following that, it now appears we have no money, no solutions, no plan, and “no comment.”

The newspaper invited Minister Bodden to sit down for an interview, giving him the opportunity to share his thoughts with the Caymanian people. Minister Bodden responded to our request: He respectfully declined.

Minister Bodden could at least show the fortitude demonstrated by Environmental Minister Wayne Panton, who was good enough to castigate the editorial board in writing for our contrary position on the National Conservation Bill. He was a worthy ideological adversary.

Unfortunately, this government’s communications policy is closer to Minister Bodden’s than Minister Panton’s.

The government’s facile attempts to force-feed its message to the public through its controlled media will not deter serious journalists, including those at the Compass. We will continue to hold officials accountable for what they say, or what they refuse to say.

If our country’s top elected members continue to maintain a self-serving, but self-defeating, “no-potshots-at-us” bunker mentality, the Compass won’t take particular offense. But members of the public should.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Once more I find myself in total agreement with your editorial. The voters outside of Bodden Town will remember Minister Bodden’s stance on the landfill and his party will likely pay the price in the next election.

  2. I completely understand Minister Bodden and the PPM’s silence on the Landfill issue. They have nothing to say because they have no answers or for that matter even an idea on how to proceed while they clearly stated during the election that they had realistic and viable options on the table for remediating the GT Dump on site. I believe they promised a lot based on an assumption that they would be able to convince the UK to ease their restrictions on Cayman borrowing more money. If you remember right after the election they sent a delegation to the UK to work this out and came home disappointed because the UK stood by this decision. Alden I believe was sure that the UK would drop this restriction because he felt it was only placed on Cayman because of their disagreement with Bush over his unwillingness to introduce some type of direct taxation in Cayman or that they would just like him better than Bush. If you also remember he constantly blamed this UK decision on Bush when it was him that did the bulk of the borrowing that put Cayman so deep in debt.

    As far as a solution for the GT Dump he has himself in quite a pickle now because one since they immediately blew the Dart deal off as promised to the people of Bodden Town with absolutely no concern for the rest of the country this is no longer an option because they need to stick with this decision in order to save face and I would find it hard to believe Dart would consider getting into any business dealings with the current government because of the way they handled themselves as soon as they got into office trying to find ways to renege on every agreement that was made with the previous government. I am sure this makes any investor uneasy about the integrity of Cayman as a whole. Now that they cannot borrow the money to do it nor does the money exist in Caymans coffers they are at a loss of what to do. There’s approximately 50 Million dollars in the Environmental Protection fund, but that will barely cover the cost of remediating or capping the pile of trash in GT and would still leave us with nothing to do but start a new pile since there wouldn’t be any money left to setup a Waste Management Facility. The only option or idea they seem to have is to find someone that will come to Cayman and fix our garbage issues for free or pay us for the garbage and remove at their own expense.

    My take is that they will stay mum on it and hope for a miracle or that people forget it over time.

  3. How does the Compass define remediate? How does Dart define remediate?

    The Compass should do a story on international best practices for remediating the dump and then compare those to the Dart offer.

    It would be good for the people of this country to understand what Dart’s proposal will and will not fix.

  4. Here is what will happen. Nothing. Next election; party change on back of shocking amount now added to Trashmore. Different party backs plan to create a new waste management centre in the original area already mooted. This then may actually happen. Just several years or generations too late.

    Ticking time bomb of CINICO and the state of health of the average Caymanian is no longer an issue, as many people drop dead from mysterious cancers at a very premature age.

    Just sort this out, now.

  5. One other point I’d like to make is that Cayman had it’s change to implement something like a Waste to Energy facility but they made the choice build big expensive shiny buildings instead. So now there’s no money left.

  6. David, I read the article again after you post, The other contries are actually paying them to take the waste, this part explains it.

    ‘This helps the rest of Europe, which frees up their landfills from waste produced by their citizens. Sweden particularly receives 80,000 tons of waste from Norway and receives money from them because it’s cheaper for Norway to give them money for the waste then to burn it on their own ground.’

  7. This sounds like sour grapes more than anything. Considering that this newspaper has done its best to promote with positive basis towards the Dart proposal for the landfill site in GT and not offered anything new as an alternative, it not really surprising the Minister has declined to comment as he will probably be quoted out of context and have little or no chance of a fair rebuttal – thus employing the best method of approach when dealing political with any media outlet – say nothing!