It’s a venerable saying — but isn’t necessarily true.
Our government too often has us paying Ritz-Carlton prices for cheap motel–quality service.
Our officials continue to expound upon the concept of achieving “value for money,” auditors general obsess on it (as they should), and it is one of the key tenets of the U.K.’s Framework for Fiscal Responsibility.
That our government officials feel the need constantly to assure the public they are achieving value for money is anything but reassuring. Consumers, not self-interested suppliers, are the best judges of whether they are receiving what they paid for.
Let’s examine something as simple as work permits. Nearly anyone would agree that work permit fees are extraordinarily high, even confiscatory. For those prices, the service our immigration department provides should be nothing short of impeccable.
And yet there is not an employer on the island who does not have tales to tell about delayed or deferred decisions from work permit boards, lost paperwork, returned paperwork (for the most inconsequential of reasons), and, most annoyingly, the difficulty in obtaining accurate or timely information regarding the status of permit applications.
Many companies have simply thrown up their hands and outsourced these HR functions (and hassles) to third parties such as lawyers or employment agencies.
Then there are our airports. Owen Roberts International Airport is barely suitable for presentation to tourists even on slow travel days, and on the busy weekends is absolutely inadequate. The parking machines are broken. Security is handicapped by malfunctioning equipment. Concessions and basic amenities are lacking.
Yet, for all of that, taxes and fees — as many as 11 different ones — on air travel from Grand Cayman are among the highest in the Caribbean. Those taxes and fees add up: A US$440 flight from Grand Cayman to Miami includes US$130 in taxes and fees; a US$400 flight from Grand Cayman to Kingston includes US$120 in taxes and fees. The pattern repeats itself: High prices, substandard delivery of services.
Customs is currently on everybody’s radar screen. The newly implemented schedule of dutiable items (with more than 5,000 categories) has created chaos, increased manpower costs and caused maddening frustration for anyone clearing goods. Again, companies that can afford to are outsourcing these headaches.
We could go on: Environmental fees are levied on cars and car tires, yet the growing mountain of these toxic items at the landfill constitutes a dangerous environmental and health hazard.
For an overall illustration of dysfunction, government departments, businesses and authorities cannot produce timely, auditable financial records for their combined $870 million budget — this in a jurisdiction that we proudly tout as “the fifth largest financial center in the world.”
Of perhaps the greatest consequence, the cost to educate one student for one year in Cayman’s public schools is among the highest in the world. How many of our readers think our educational outcomes are among the best in the world?
We believe there would be much more support for the civil service if the services they provide were delivered in an efficient, customer-friendly manner, commensurate with the hundreds of millions of dollars we pay for them annually.
Far too often, government workers treat their “customers” (us) as if we were enemies or adversaries. We are not. We are their employers. With the government as our proxy, we sign their paychecks, and one thing we need to demand is “value for money.”