It has been a year since the Cayman Islands government announced an ambitious public sector reform plan to restructure the civil service, amalgamate certain services, privatize others and sell off certain public assets.
The reforms were based on a $155,000 consultant report done by the Ernst & Young accounting firm, and although many of the recommendations were longer-term projects, Premier Alden McLaughlin said in April that six areas in particular had been identified as issues the government would pursue immediately.
The Cayman Compass takes a look at the latest progress on the proposed reforms.
Merger of government ‘watchdogs’
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson has said government was in the process of putting together a business case for the merger of the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Complaints Commissioner’s Office.
What this merger would entail, or even what aspects would be merged, is still unclear. There is no certainty regarding whether the government will move forward with a proposed data protection regime, which would fall under the information commissioner, or a police complaints commission, which could be placed under the complaints commissioner.
“The idea at a very high level is to merge these offices to where they’ll be in one location, hopefully cross-training staff to where we can have a more efficient service,” Mr. Manderson said.
The move has been opposed by Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers and former Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams. Independent lawmakers Arden McLean and Ezzard Miller have also voiced their opposition to the plan, stating that the merger would compromise the independence and integrity of the offices.
Former Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert has also spoken out about the merger, stating it appeared to be unfeasible and that it would not lead to any cost savings, since only 10 employees currently work in the two offices.
“Certainly, we will not go down this road if we felt the independence of these offices will be compromised,” Mr. Manderson said. “On the contrary, we feel that it could be enhanced.”
Premier McLaughlin was contacted for comment regarding the proposed merger; his office indicated he would make a statement “in due course.”
The EY report recommended selling government-owned broadcaster Radio Cayman, but that proposal was rejected by Mr. McLaughlin’s government.
Instead, lawmakers said they wished to proceed with a merger of the radio station, government’s television channel and Government Information Services.
Last spring, a number of private sector entities, including Cayman Islands media professionals, met with U.K. consultants to discuss the proposed merger. A report was expected from those consultations, but to date no report has been made public.
The merger could affect some of the 35 employees who work for the three departments, but statements from the premier earlier this year seemed to leave in question whether the merger would happen.
Radio Cayman and Government Information Services, which includes the operation of the government-owned television channel, CIG-TV, each receive about $1 million in annual subsidies, according to figures projected in the 2015/16 budget.
A bill to create the Cayman Islands Public Utilities Commission is expected to come before the Legislative Assembly in the fall. The creation of such an all-in-one regulator was recommended by the EY consultant report.
A draft of the legislation has not been made public.
The Public Utilities Commission is proposed to be the regulator of all local utility industries, including electric, telecommunications and water. It would also seek greater regulation of gas prices by requiring oil companies to provide their operating costs and fuel markups to government.
Government Planning and Infrastructure Minister Kurt Tibbetts has acknowledged there will be a number of issues involved in setting up the commission, aside from those dealing with oil prices. For instance, depending on how the entity is set up, the Water Authority, Cayman – which is owned and operated by government – could end up becoming the “regulator” of its competition, Cayman Water Company, which serves Seven Mile Beach and West Bay. Also, there are the standard difficulties of what to do with current regulatory bodies, such as the Electricity Regulatory Authority or the Information and Communications Technology Authority, if all are to be folded into one commission.
To assist in amalgamating all the regulatory functions, Mr. Tibbetts’s ministry has hired a consultant on a three-month contract to “develop the framework” for the Public Utilities Commission.
The Public Utilities Bill would likely serve as “umbrella legislation” that guides each regulatory agency in its work, Mr. Tibbetts said.
‘Surplus’ land sale
The government has indicated it will pursue this option in the EY report, but that a sale of surplus land will earn the public sector far less than the potential figure stated by the accounting firm.
Premier McLaughlin’s office said the expected value of surplus land sales was “in the region” of $8 million to $10 million.
The EY consultants report advised government to sell $65 million worth of surplus properties by the end of 2015.
The premier said all lands considered for sale were viewed as “non-strategic” by the government, meaning the Crown had no particular purpose identified for them in either short-term or long-range plans. Properties involved in the sale were located in all districts in the Cayman Islands, and a business case for the sale was being developed, the premier said. Public tendering would begin for sale of the lands when that process was completed, he added.
The identification of properties to be sold was done following a review by the government Lands and Survey Department.
A recommendation to raise Cayman’s retirement age has been accepted and is being acted upon in draft legislation that was earmarked to go to the Legislative Assembly later this year.
The proposed Labour Relations Bill, 2015, which could be considered by lawmakers at the next assembly meeting in October, seeks to raise the retirement age for private sector workers from 60 to 65. Although the legislation does not directly affect civil servants, whose employment is governed under a different law, it is presumed the civil service will follow suit.
However, the local business community has raised concerns regarding a number of other provisions in the new labor bill. The concerns expressed by the business community are not related to the proposal to raise the retirement age.
Cayman Brac schools
The recommendation to merge three primary school campuses in Cayman Brac has not been acted on, according to Brac officials.
“To the best of my knowledge, and I’m here on the ground, that has not happened,” Brac District Commissioner Ernie Scott said.
The initial proposal was to consolidate West End Primary with the Spot Bay and Creek Bay primary schools in an effort to reduce administrative and operating costs.
r to peruse and implement the recommendations of the EY report. – PHOTO: TANEOS RAMSAY