Self-interest, ‘social responsibility’ and the Civil Service

cayman jobless 2
“One of the things that EY seems to have forgotten is the social responsibility of a government” — thus spoke Civil Service Association President James Watler in response to Ernst & Young’s report on ways to reduce the size of the Cayman Islands public sector.

It’s a common charge that arises against each mention of removing functions, roles or people from Cayman’s government: Somehow, some way, eliminating this or that government activity — no matter how ancillary and inefficient — will do damage to Caymanians as a people, those opponents contend.


Don’t believe for a moment that Mr. Watler has in mind the common welfare of the islands’ populace or the future of Cayman as a viable, self-governing entity. He’s not even concerned about preserving the special privileges reserved for Caymanians, as opposed to non-Caymanians.

When Mr. Watler sounds the trumpet of “social responsibility,” he is playing to one distinct audience: Civil servants. And the tune is: Protect government salaries and benefits, at any cost.

Excuse us. Government’s “social responsibility” does not extend solely, or even primarily, to the 6,300 public servants paid out of taxpayer funds, nor to their dependent family members. Government’s responsibility is to the collective population of the Cayman Islands — and particularly to the most disadvantaged Caymanians who, through circumstances beyond their control, are unable to function in greater society.

These are the people for whom government has a “social responsibility” — the homeless, the hopeless and the helpless.

The unfortunate victims of abuse, mental ailments, neglect, disease, disorders and disasters … the sick, the destitute, the very young and the very old — those are the rightful wards of the state. Rightful claims to public assistance are earned through personal suffering, and paid out of compassion — not through union membership and an ingrained entitlement mentality.

Mr. Watler and the civil servants he represents (a vocal group representative of many, but by no means all, public employees) are concerned that government’s executing the EY recommendations would result in the transferral of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of government roles — and the civil servants who fill them — to the private sector.

It’s a justifiable concern because, hopefully, that is exactly Cabinet’s intent.

But so what? Any civil servant who loses his public job would simply join the same pool as the rest of us. What’s so terrible or terrifying about competing in the private sector, along with the tens of thousands of Caymanians who already do?

What is so sacred about a civil servant that makes it heresy to suggest aligning health and pensions benefits to what every other working Caymanian has? What is the special quality of a civil servant that he should get consideration over the thousands of Caymanians who have no employment at all? What is it about a civil servant that entitles him to a highly paid sinecure at the expense of those Caymanians who have nothing or next to nothing?

Make no mistake: Each dollar squandered on entrepreneurial fictions such as the Cayman Turtle Farm, vanity projects like Clifton Hunter High School, and the inefficiencies of a bloated bureaucracy is one less dollar that the government could have devoted to education, infrastructure or indigent care.

The first priority of government needs to be the people — not the people on the public payroll.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now


  1. I look at the comments of the editor as just another commenter when speculative and unfactual views are expressed. To say how Mr. Watler feel or does not feel about the welfare of these islands is speculation. To assume that the building of the schools was not a worthwhile undertaking by government either they did not have kids in the dilapidated John Gray Campus, or had them in updated private schools.

    The assumption that someone should look toward Cayman being a self governing entity flies in the face of those who value our current and continued association with the United Kingdom. A guiding force who would see us use our elected officials and their offices to proactively avoid its citizens being indigent, through education and employment. And I should add; to help us avoid a hostile or non-hostile take-over by non elected..

  2. While opinions expressed in editorials are the purview of the editorial board, the newspaper still has a duty to express those opinions fairly and responsibly. The hyperbolic language used in this editorial is not only unbecoming but unfair and likely misrepresents the position of Mr. Water and the Civil Service as a whole.

    Naturally civil servants are concerned about how some of these changes might affect them, but that does not mean that Mr Watler or the rank and file as a whole may not accept that some changes may be necessary as to privatization, or whatever. It certainly does not mean as your editorial suggests that civil servants may not genuinely have concerns about the social responsibility of government to the needs of the people.

    Witness the widely hyperbolic statements such as (The need for social responsibility) is a common charge that arises against EACH mention of functions, roles or people … No matter how ancillary or inefficient. Or Don’t believe for one minute Mr. Watler has in mind the common welfare of the Islands’ populace or the future of Cayman…. Not to mention: the tune is protect government salaries and benefits AT ANY COST…. (Caps are mine).

    The art of argument requires fairness in the way the opposing views are presented. A little less emotion might have served this editorial better.

    After all, the ultimate objective is not necessarily to win AT ALL COST — but to arrive at the truth.

  3. To John F, I don;t think anyone feels that the school were not a worthwhile undertaking. The problem her is that Lamborghini way it was done, spending 200 Million Dollars on one school and breaking the bank was ridiculous. For that price one could have been built in each district. I am sure that’s why it was called a vanity project..