Six areas where the Cayman Islands government expects to reform its operations, following a consultant review completed last September, were outlined by Premier Alden McLaughlin on Monday.
The options being pursued included the merger of various government watchdog agencies, the merger of government communications services and the merger of certain public utility regulatory agencies. The government would also consider the sale of certain “surplus” Crown land, raise the retirement age from 60 to 65, and consolidate primary schools in Cayman Brac.
Mr. McLaughlin said these specific areas did not constitute the sum of reforms that would be proposed out of the Ernst & Young report, and that other plans would certainly be made in time.
“There is always great clamor for immediate change … and often these changes do not happen as quickly as we’d like, but we have to make sure we do these things properly,” he said, adding that the EY report was simply “one tool in the box” of government as it sought to reform the public service.
The ultimate goal of the reform was not “job losses,” according to the premier, but improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the civil service.
“We need to decide what areas government ought to be in the business of doing,” he said.
To assist in the implementation process, in addition to seconding a civil service chief officer, Mary Rodrigues, and a small team under her, Mr. McLaughlin said Monday that his office had hired an adviser from the U.K.
Kieran Stigant, an accountant, will serve as a political appointee to the premier’s office on a one-year contract. He has worked in local government in the U.K., including as a chief officer, and three years as chief executive at West Sussex County Council.
Some options discussed at Monday’s press briefing seemed more definite than others. For instance, the premier discussed a plan to merge the complaints commissioner, information commissioner and soon-to-be created police public complaints commission into one office, under the direction of a single ombudsman.
“The collective view of all of us … is that this is something we should pursue,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I’m not sure, structurally, how it will all work. We’re seeking to avoid duplication or replication of functions.”
Government has generally the same idea with the creation of a Public Utilities Commission, which would seek to consolidate the functions now performed by the Petroleum Inspectorate, the Electricity Regulatory Authority, the Information and Communications Technology Authority and the Water Authority, Cayman.
Preliminary discussion of a Public Authorities Bill making the legal changes necessary to create the new commission was expected during this week’s meeting of the Legislative Assembly as part of a private members motion filed by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush.
Meanwhile, a merger of government communications functions, including Government Information Services, Radio Cayman and CIG-TV was due to come under a further review next week by visiting U.K. officials, who expect to meet with local stakeholders – including the privately-run media – seeking advice on how that plan should move ahead.
“The big question isn’t so much about the merger of these things, it’s that ‘Is this system that we have in place … effective in delivering the communications that the government needs?’” Mr. McLaughlin said.
A merger of another sort is being proposed for Cayman Brac, where two public primary schools on three campuses are expected to be consolidated into one campus, according to Ms. Rodrigues, the chief officer driving the implementation of the government reform.
The sale of certain “excess” Crown property holdings would occur at some stage in the future and would involve the public tendering of lands that were not “in use” by government, the premier said.
Precisely where those properties are and how much the lands might be worth was unknown. The EY report had identified some $65 million in properties that the accounting firm believed could be sold, but Mr. McLaughlin said Monday that the actual sale amount would be less.
The premier said government had already decided not to sell certain assets, such as the main administration building, the Water Authority or Radio Cayman.
He said the Lands and Survey Department reviewed a list of other government properties and decided which ones “would be useful to retain.” Any that were not on the list could be considered for sale.
The government has long proposed, and the EY report also recommended, that the retirement age be raised to 65.
Both Mr. McLaughlin and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said this should be done, but alluded to a number of legal changes that would have to be made to put that into effect. Now, government workers must retire at age 60 unless they are given a contract to continue working beyond that age.
Mr. Manderson said between 160 and 190 people in government above age 60 are now working on one-year contracts and it had become relatively standard practice in the civil service to employ workers beyond age 60. He said changing the retirement age would likely require changes in the Public Service Management Law and potentially the Labour Law as well.
In addition, Mr. McLaughlin alluded to constitutional issues that might arise if civil service pensions were affected by a change in the working age.