Premier McLaughlin's job description without end

Help Wanted: Growing organization seeks motivated individual for senior leadership role. Responsibilities include immigration, law enforcement, public safety, healthcare, information technology, solid waste management, international relations, prisons, fire, community rehabilitation, hazard management, mosquito control and cultural affairs. Prior experience in these areas is helpful, but not necessary. Competitive salary, generous benefits, opportunities for travel. Inquiries are directed to the Government Administration Building.

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”?

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  1. I cannot understand why the Premier has allowed his job responsibility to become so large, and hate to think it is, that he trust no one else in his party or is it that none of them is capable of doing any of the jobs.
    However being fair, I believe we should give him small time to rethink this shuffle of responsibility, seeing that it came through and unexpected situation, because if not it may cause the baby to get thrown out with the bath water.

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  2. Isn’t this the same man that bashed Bush over and over saying that he was wearing to many hat’s when he took on the ministry of Finance ? The same man that urged UDP members to as I quote put the country first and force Bush to step down saying it was the right minded thing to do. Didn’t he also ask for Dwayne Seymour to step down when he got into a fight, he also stood by his personal assistant when he found himself in a similar situation, same with Ozzie whom he also stood by after he beat a man in the street with a whip. So it seem that what good for the goose is not good for the gander.

    All sounds a hypocritical but this isn’t surprising because that’s just how political parties operate. If you’re in my party you’re innocent till proven guilty, if not your garbage and an enemy to the island or at least I will portray you to be in order to sway voters to my side.

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  3. Many years ago there was a advertising campaign in the UK, where someone was asked a difficult question and the reply was

    ‘I don’t know…. BUT I know a man who does!’

    It quickly got subverted by the business community and became a mantra which showed the power of good delegation.

    The premier DOES possess the skill-set he needs for example, to solve the Dump problem;- i.e. Delegate and empower

    Let’s not forget that he was ALREADY responsible for all of this AND MORE, all that’s happened is that the management structure has become flatter (and potentially more efficient?)

    The hardest part of delegation is not finding best person for the job (though that is a key success factor), no, the hardest part is to step back far enough to allow them to DO the job on your behalf, the ‘hands off’ approach.

    The premier is risking his reputation to a much greater extent than the person he entrusts the task to, so the temptation is to ‘micro-manage’. But if he is to do it well, his role is much more about empowerment, ensuring they have the resources and co-operation, and preventing the diversions and distractions which can prevent success.

    The somewhat insidious part of ‘Bodden-gate’ is the realization that a government minister is treating a senior officer like his PA or secretary – ‘sort out my phone bill’, rather than cooperating with them to deal with the bigger challenges that should be their true remit! That might explain the lack of progress on the pressing issues.

    The premier might really pull off a masterstroke if he can show some rapid progress on a few key problems.

    This is his Rubicon, will he be decisive or dither, will he take charge or be paralysed by fear and indecision. He is the Leader, his actions will show if he sees that as simply a title or as a role!

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