‘Project Future’: How far into the future?

By appointing a “Project Future Steering Committee” dedicated to implementing reforms to the civil service, the Cayman Islands government has ticked off an early and easy, but still important, box on the cost-cutting schedule prepared by consultants from Ernst & Young.

Forgive us if we sound impatient, or even uneasy, but our first reaction to government’s announcement was a question: Exactly, how far into the future is Project Future going to go?

For those keeping track, the government’s new 15-person “steering committee,” led by Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, joins its four-person “strategic reforms implementation unit,” led by former Education Chief Officer Mary Rodrigues. Committee members have already been meeting to organize themselves, but they can do little else until they receive instructions from Cabinet lawmakers on which EY report recommendations will be adopted, and which will be disregarded or discarded.

To date, Cabinet’s “To-Do List” remains empty, while its “Not-To-Do List” is filling up quickly. Two months after the EY report was issued, we have yet to hear of a single action — involving the reduction of activities or positions within the civil service — that Cabinet is inclined to take, although Premier Alden McLaughlin has already declared several probable Cabinet inactions, including not spinning off Radio Cayman, not selling or leasing the Water Authority, and not selling the Government Administration Building.

This, to us, is a case when “no news” may well be construed as “bad news.” Nevertheless, Premier McLaughlin has offered a gesture of goodwill by inviting the Chamber of Commerce to participate in the steering committee.

In addition to the Chamber’s representative, the steering committee includes Deputy Governor Manderson (chair), Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose, Acting Financial Secretary Michael Nixon (or Finance Ministry chief officer Ken Jefferson), Solicitor General Jacqueline Wilson (or her representative), Portfolio of the Civil Service Chief Officer Gloria McField-Nixon, deputy governor’s strategic adviser Peter Gough, Premier McLaughlin’s representative MLA Winston Connolly, Civil Service Association representative John Bothwell, a representative for statutory authorities/government-owned companies, and a second private sector representative.

Additionally, the government’s director of procurement and director of e-government will join as nonvoting members, along with Ms. Rodrigues (who is government’s “chief adviser” as well as head of her reforms unit) and Ms. Rodrigues’s appointee Tasha Ebanks-Garcia (a member of the reform unit, and the steering committee’s secretary).

If our iteration of committee members comes off as a bit unwieldy, that’s just the nature of 15-member committees. The more cynical among us might remark that having so many people on a committee makes it difficult even to remember precisely who is on the committee, much less hold any of them accountable for the committee’s performance.

But that sort of judgment is premature for the time being. While we as a rule favor smaller, rather than larger, committees (and government), the number of members on this particular committee, be it one or 101, is largely irrelevant — in the absence of orders to proceed from Cabinet.

All the “Project Future Steering Committee” can do is to steer — but first it has to know where it’s going — and when it’s expected to get to its destination. A timetable would be instructive — and comforting.