British passports: Going nowhere fast

The United Kingdom’s decision to centralize the processing of British passports in late 2013 has already led to a backlog of some 500,000 outstanding applications, including from Cayman Islands residents who have been waiting months for their vital travel documents.

The government-inflicted bureaucratic bungling prompted an apology from U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May, who told Parliament, “I am sorry and the government is sorry.”

What exactly does it mean when a government says it is “sorry”? Words without content or meaning are better off unuttered. We wonder whether Ms. May recommended any consequences to accompany her “sorriness,” such as “those responsible are going to lose their jobs over this.” Responsibility without accountability is a predictor of poor performance.

As people who live in Cayman and elsewhere are well aware, having a valid passport is a modern-day necessity and every delayed application represents a considerable personal or professional hardship – be it a lost career opportunity, missed birth or final chance to say goodbye to a loved one.

The U.K.’s passport problems vindicate concerns expressed by Cayman Premier Alden McLaughlin over the U.K.’s plans to take over the issuance of Cayman/British passports, which currently are printed locally. With the exception of Cayman, all British Overseas Territories will repatriate their passports to the U.K. starting in January 2015. The implementation date for Cayman has not been set, but recently local officials suggested that may occur around May 2015.

As we’ve stated before, the Compass believes the U.K. is well within its rights to centralize control over the issuance of its passports, for reasons of practicality and security. Good cause, however, does not excuse poor execution.

The Premier has voiced his concerns over the future ability of people in Cayman to obtain passports immediately in case of emergency, if the passports are to be printed overseas rather than locally. What happens if one of the oldest among us (an elderly stroke victim, for example) or the very youngest (a prematurely born baby) needs emergency healthcare treatment in Miami, and the only determinant of life or death is the bureaucratic delay of a valid passport?

In light of the U.K. passport backlog, the Premier’s concern can be broadened to cover normal as well as emergency travel documents. What happens if a Caymanian student cannot fly back to Oxford, or Florida State University, in time for the start of the school year, even though she applied to renew her passport when she arrived home at the beginning of the summer?
What happens if a Caymanian CEO needs to travel to seal a major deal but his passport, so to speak, “is in the mail”?
Cayman officials should sustain their earnest discussions with their U.K. counterparts to ensure that British subjects in Cayman are never stranded without their passports.

The U.K.’s handling (non-handling?) of this issue graphically connects the dots between faceless bureaucracies and the inefficiencies that far too often result.


  1. What if, and please God it doesn’t happen, we have a hurricane and people whose passports are stuck in the UK cannot get off the the island to the US, before, or immediately after the storm.

  2. The inconsistency of this Editorial Board drives me crazy!

    I’ll put aside that this is yet another attack on government (which can be found in at least 3 of the 5 editorials in any given week), which is irrelevant considering that private companies can have administrative problems too, and their apologies are just as meaningless.

    Just a few weeks ago, this newspaper took the Customs department to task over the wedding dress issue, calling them out for not giving a simple apology and instead trying to justify their processes. I was in complete agreement with that, by the way. However, the call for an apology in that instance seems very different than the paragraph above that indicates What exactly does it mean when a government says it is sorry? Words without content or meaning are better off unuttered.

    Instead of giving the government credit for coming forward and apologising to the people who are inconvenienced, rather than just making excuses about how a new centralizing process inevitably causes delays. During the wedding dress debacle the Compass couldn’t spend enough time singing the virtue of a simple apology, but now suddenly that is not sufficient unless people also lose their jobs. Of course, the brilliant people of the editorial board know that firings would speed up the process and make everyone get their passports sooner, right?

    Please, editors, show some consistency. The only thing you are consistent about is your hatred of government. If something goes wrong and they don’t apologise, then government stinks for not apologising. If something goes wrong and they do apologise, then apologies are meaningless words unless accompanied by firings.

    The editors say Good cause, however, does not excuse poor execution. You may view your anti-government agenda as a good cause, but your willingness to make contrary arguments depending on the situation simply for the same of pushing your agenda is poor execution.

  3. Thank goodness that when I was over in Wales in April I paid the extra pounds and renewed my UK passport in 4 hours at the Newport Passport Office.

    ButI would like to alert ESTA holders to is this :-
    What I did not realise was that even though my ESTA, for entry to US, was valid until September because I had renewed my passport I needed to get a new ESTA. So at Heathrow I was not allowed to check in for a flight to the States

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