The need to pay heed to speed

In his new blockbuster book, Flash Boys, author Michael Lewis explores the phenomenon of high-frequency trading and its impact on the stock market, an arena where the difference between a millisecond and a nanosecond can mean billions of dollars.

In all modern societies, the relative importance of time is expanding, turning over traditional power structures. Practically, it means that the big no longer eat the small; the fast eat the slow.

And yet, in the Cayman Islands, especially (but not exclusively) in government, things seem to move at an interminably lethargic pace. Urgency and dispatch are not valued, or even identified, as essential components of our social, legislative or bureaucratic processes.

Let us illustrate by taking a tour of Grand Cayman, starting at the so-called “National Park” in Barkers. More than a decade after the park officially opened, and three months after government finally passed legislation providing a mechanism for a national park to exist legally, the government has yet to grant formal protected status to Barkers or anywhere else.

In West Bay, a certain vacant field was intended to be the site of the new Beulah Smith High School before government’s funds were gobbled up by the Clifton Hunter and (unfinished) John Gray campuses.

On Northwest Point Road, the Cayman Turtle Farm continues to cost taxpayers some $10 million per year in ritual bailouts, with no end in sight.

Minutes spent idling in traffic on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway present an opportunity for contemplation of the noxious odors emanating from the 80-foot-tall George Town landfill. Following decades of research on the problem by successive governments, the current government has responded — by appointing a committee to research it some more. Where is the urgency?

In George Town, congregations of sweaty, tired visitors line up at the airport and cruise port — the expansion and improvement of which, like the landfill solution, exist only in the imagination.

On the waterfront, the former site of the Tower Building is nominally reserved as the future site of a “Jubilee Park” and “Christian Heritage Monument,” yet nevertheless remains an empty lot.

Within the courtroom downtown, the wheels of Caymanian justice turn at an undetectable rate. The poster boy for judicial inertia is former Premier McKeeva Bush, who still awaits trial nearly 16 months after his arrest.

On the eastern half of the island is the proposed Ironwood golfing and residential community. How long will it take before environmental impact assessments are conducted, concluded and agreed upon? How many miles of red tape must be traversed before the first mile of the East-West Arterial highway is constructed?

However maddening, the situation is not hopeless. There is nothing real that is preventing the transformation of Cayman’s government into a quick, sleek and efficient organization.

The first step is for government to obtain metrics on its performance, so officials can see objectively where improvement is needed and where it is occurring.

The government should be measuring everything: how long the average commute takes at different times of day; how long a person must wait to see an immigration officer, or postal worker; how long it takes to process a coastal works license, or driver’s license.

Paying heed to speed is essential in preparing Cayman for the competitive fast-paced future it faces.


  1. This was a very well written article. As a tourist that has been returning to the island for the last 15 years I have experienced many of the listed frustrations. I have visited many of the other Caribbean islands and have found that Grand Cayman for all its government mismanagements along with the grind of island time Cayman is still light years ahead of places like Bonaire. Here in the states, we joke about our government-run postal service. It is the same as going through your airport. I have come to expect that it does not matter where you are in the world, any time you have to deal with any government-run anything, you need to take a lunch because, you are going to be there all day. Government operates similarly to the principles associated with a black hole. Time slows down the closer you get to one and they will suck in anything that gets close to them. They are so dense that light itself can’t escape their gravitational pull.

  2. In these days of supercomputers and the information superhighway, it does seem bizarre how readily Government bodies fall back to paper forms…
    There are circa 19,000 expats on the island and every year they are required to get a police clearance – assume half a day over 2 days given going back to collect a day later – mostly this is done in employers time.
    So the island economy loses 9,500 man days per year to police clearances.
    The cost is therefore 38 man years times an average salary of 58,000 (if I remember the stats from the Compass last year) which is 2.2 million in lost wages but you must realize that those individuals should be generating value in excess of their wages, plus there is the cost of collecting it (officers manning the desk, the building, power A/C and light and of course ten thousand pieces of paper).
    All of this could be achieved by a simple data chirp between the immigration and police computers with no paper, no time wasted, no hassle (and no risk of forgeries) – if the CIG is worried about the fee – that could be paid as an extra when the permit is submitted…

  3. I will respectfully disagree with John Barrett about US Postal Service or government run anything. At least that has never been my experience.
    Secondly, you can’t possibly compare US government run services and CI government run services.
    The article accurately states the facts of CI government’s practices.
    The question is- why it is the way it is? Anybody knows?

  4. I heartily applaud the Caymanian Compass for this most important and carefully thought out editorial on government’s snail-pace approach to matters of importance. Perhaps the feeling is everything can wait. We will eventually get around to it. Remember this saying, Nero fiddled while Rome burnt. Maybe someone can explain whether its good old government bureaucracy that has become a way of life or the complacency that government workers, as a whole, are prone to exhibit.
    In December, 2013 I submitted my application for residency, as the spouse of a deceased Caymanian. I ensured that all requested documents (in compliance with the requirements) were submitted. I knew for certain that the application was received on December 23, 2013 because the Immigration Dept. actually deposited the enclosed application fee check just three (3) days after receipt of the documents. This they quickly moved on. Can someone tell me why it is taking so long (over 3 months) to get a response from the Immigration Department? I would appreciate a comment.

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