The Cayman Islands’ largest business advocacy organization has publicly opposed a decision to put “a team of civil servants” in charge of implementing government recommendations for downsizing and outsourcing.
Those recommendations are expected later this year following Cabinet’s review of an Ernst & Young consultant’s report done at the request of government. The EY report suggests the outsourcing of hundreds of government jobs and the elimination or amalgamation of more than a dozen government departments, statutory authorities or government-owned companies.
The report was completed following statements by Premier Alden McLaughlin and Finance Minister Marco Archer that Cayman’s public sector was too large and had to be cut back to repair the territory’s finances. Both men also noted some privatization of government services was required.
The Chamber of Commerce Council, calling for bipartisan support of the reforms recommended by EY, said government was encroaching on too many areas in which the private sector was already well involved.
“Government works best when it creates a regulatory and enforcement environment that fosters business development and growth, rather than competing with the private sector by providing services that fall outside the central role of government,” the council statement reads. “The public service should be seen as an enabler of business.”
The council questioned whether a civil service team, led by former Ministry of Education chief officer Mary Rodrigues, should be in charge of implementing Cabinet’s recommendations with no private sector input.
“We are concerned by the potential conflicts of interest and whether the team will have the requisite change management skills required to carry out this challenging process,” the Chamber statement reads.
“Creating a new department, rather than simply outsourcing the implementation, contradicts the aim of the [EY consultant’s] report, which is to change systems and to reduce expenditure. The implementation phase should not be led by bureaucrats who may lack the objectivity to guarantee the success of this initiative.”
If that key element is not changed, the Chamber Council indicated its fear that the EY report will become another in a long line of shelved documents in the government administration building.
“Governments have introduced cosmetic reform initiatives that have yielded some positive results, but no full-scale reform has ever been achieved that has resulted in comprehensive and whole-scale reform due to lack of political will and internal support from the public sector.”
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, who has fully supported the stated goals of the EY review and the planned restructuring of the civil service, said last month that the government hierarchy has to be the ones to implement Cabinet-approved recommendations.
“It can only be civil servants that do this, and I’m very, very confident [the accepted changes are] going to happen,” Mr. Manderson said. “I don’t know who else could do it. [The civil service] has to carry out the government’s mandate, whether we agree with it or not.”
Individual chief officers will still be responsible for putting in place recommendations specific to their ministries or portfolios.
“Will it be difficult? Yes,” Mr. Manderson said. “It will take some time. Individual chief officers will have the responsibility to carry out the recommendations.”
For instance, the deputy governor said that if a recommendation was made that affected the area of waste management, the chief officer directly responsible for that area of the ministry would implement it as best he could. Mrs. Rodrigues would step in “and alert the premier” if roadblocks were placed in the way of implementation by civil servants.
It is evident there will be pushback from civil service rank-and-file in some areas. Civil Service Association President James Watler said last week that not all proposals in the EY evaluation were opposed by civil servants; some were supported during Wednesday’s meeting at Mary Miller Hall. However, he noted there were a number of areas of concern expressed during the closed-door meeting.
“One of the things that EY seems to have forgotten is the social responsibility of a government,” Mr. Watler said. “I think the premier and his colleagues are cognizant of that. We are not being alarmists, but there seems to be contradictions in there, disclaimers. Why would you farm out something that would potentially fail [in the private sector]? It’s going to fall back in [government’s] lap.”