If Premier Alden McLaughlin’s job description were to be placed in the Classifieds section of the Cayman Compass, its author would be accused of constructing a contrived list of functions and skills for the sole purpose of renewing a work permit, and preventing a Caymanian from getting the job. The National Workforce Development Agency would be put on its highest alert.
After Minister Osbourne Bodden perpetrated his expletive-filled outburst at Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn, the premier should have immediately stripped Mr. Bodden of his ministerial powers. That was, and remains, the only “right” move. Instead, however, Premier McLaughlin chose to make a political move, shuffling Cabinet responsibilities in order to separate Minister Bodden from his former chief officer.
In doing so, the premier plucked the meat and potatoes (healthcare and the George Town landfill) from Minister Bodden’s portfolio, leaving him with comparatively lighter fare (community affairs and sports).
If anybody could successfully discharge any one of the duties falling within the portfolio of Premier McLaughlin’s new “mega” Ministry of Home Affairs, Health and Culture — quite frankly, our hat’s off to them. Making his task even more challenging is that, to our knowledge, Mr. McLaughlin has no particular expertise in the disciplines of healthcare and solid waste management.
The premier’s assumption of new responsibilities places him in a position of great prominence … and potential precariousness. This situation is not confined to the premier or to the Cayman Islands, but is the result of our Westminster style of government.
The way Cayman’s system is supposed to work, is the minister brings policy positions to his or her ministry, and the chief officer brings the relevant knowledge required to meet the policy goals. Where Premier McLaughlin will be tested is not on his awareness of the intimate details of waste-to-energy technology or chikungunya transmission, but in how well he manages his ministerial portfolios via his relationships with his chief officers.
Too often, Cayman’s apportionment of powers falls apart at the seam between the elected political class and the appointed civil service. This occurs when politicians make impossible (perhaps even insincere) promises in order to get elected, and then, once in office, abandon them one by one as it becomes increasingly obvious they didn’t understand what it is they were promising in the first place. What’s a chief officer, even a most capable one, to do? Exhibit A in this category is, of course, the landfill.
At this juncture, we’ll remark that Premier McLaughlin has placed himself inside this particular pressure cooker by volunteering for Minister Bodden’s assignments instead of simply benching him and promoting another member in his place.
Regardless of how he came about it, Premier McLaughlin now oversees many, if not most, of government’s vital functions and services. On criminal justice, healthcare, immigration and waste management — the buck stops right at his desk.
By a process of self-selection, our premier is now on the hottest seat in government.
Permit us to turn up the temperature a little: Premier McLaughlin, as the Third Elected Member for George Town, and the new minister responsible for the George Town landfill, do you stand by Minister Bodden’s campaign pledge of “No Dump in Bodden Town”?