Running government by committee

Leading by committee, consensus, and constant checking of the public pulse is not leading at all. In fact, it is the opposite of leading.

This government currently has committees and consultants examining everything from a minimum wage to speed limits to the Ebola virus, to “one man, one vote,” as well as the George Town landfill, cruise port, airport, immigration policy, education delivery and downsizing the civil service, to name just a few.

The process to enact a mandatory minimum wage in the Cayman Islands is especially instructive. The train of thought on this topic should be straightforward: Does Cayman need a minimum wage? If so, what should it be? Given that, how do you enforce it?

Local lawmakers have discussed and debated the issue for decades. It becomes popular quadrennially, usually at election time. Presumably our politicians have been well informed by the voluminous available research on this subject conducted in the United States and dozens of other countries.

And yet, Employment Minister Tara Rivers feels she needs more input. She has assembled a 12-person Minimum Wage Advisory Committee (assisted by seven additional ex-officio members) to help her formulate her position.

In the last four months, the 19 members have held 14 meetings, and town-hall meetings are under way as well. There have been delays in securing a consultant, but a report (not a decision but a report!) is promised by next February. Lawmakers will get to vote on the topic sometime before the May 2017 election. The projected cost for all of this is $200,000.

The question deserves to be asked whether standing-room-only-sized committees and a multiplicity of voices result in better decisions. We don’t think so. Does anyone really believe that asking more Caymanians what they think the speed limit should be on West Bay Road will result in anything helpful or meaningful?

We pay our elected members six-figure salaries to make decisions – not to delegate that fundamental responsibility to anyone – especially anonymous and expensive outside consultants.

A group of reporters once pondered the important issue of how to make the most money by writing the fewest words (hit tunes and ransom notes came out on top). Nevertheless, they may have missed a good bet. There are millions to be made in crafting consultant reports for governments.

We acknowledge that government leaders (and business executives) are often well-advised to hire outsiders for advice, particularly in highly technical areas where the expertise does not reside in-house. A second justification is understandable when objective counsel is needed in highly charged political or organizational environments.

The Ernst & Young report on privatization (which, by the way, was a bargain at $155,000) is one such example. EY was advising on the possible privatization of much of the civil service, which also happens to be the largest voting bloc in Cayman. In such instances, these engagements give politicians “cover” for what may indeed be necessary, but politically unpopular, decisions.

But the minimum wage?

If it’s deemed desirable to have one, let’s go with Ezzard Miller’s proposal of five bucks an hour. If it’s too low – or too high – we’ll make adjustments after we gather some real-world experience.

Now, what was the next item on the agenda … ?

2 COMMENTS

  1. Well said – government by consensus simply avoids tackling issues head on, and therefore the necessity to make unilateral policy decisions which, however unpopular, are what are needed for the overall good of the country.

  2. Someone needs to do an FOI request to determin the extent to which the government is using external consultants to do work that sould essentially be within the remit of senior government employees within the respective ministries, governemnt companies and departments.

    There is no need to have a lot of these senior people if their work is going to be essentially outsourced to external consultants.

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