Clifton Hunter: How low can it go?

About two weeks ago, Cayman Islands government auditors revealed that the book value of Clifton Hunter High School was “at least” $20 million less than what it cost to build. What could be worse?

This: The $20 million “depreciation” appears to be the result of “inflationary” tactics resorted to by the Ministry of Education after an earlier report pegged the value of the Frank Sound campus even lower — at between $70 million and $85 million … compared to the $90 million value in the revised report … and the $110 million in construction costs (which, by the way, included an overrun of about another $40 million).

In brief, in the opinion of the authors of the first valuation report, Clifton Hunter was actually worth $25 million to $40 million less than it cost to build.

In a previous editorial, we went over some of the cost overruns that led to the runaway spending on Clifton Hunter. Let us, in this space, focus instead on what happened after the campus was constructed.

As the Compass reported in Friday’s newspaper, a review by the Auditor General’s Office showed that in 2012, as part of a government-wide assessment of Crown properties, valuation experts appraised the cost of Clifton Hunter at between $70 million and $85 million.

Ministry officials then sought a “second opinion” on the school valuation from a second firm, a move that Acting Auditor General Garnet Harrison said left auditors “a bit surprised.”

As we can see, the figures provided by the second group of valuers were indeed rosier, but still dismal.

Also take note that the conception, construction and financial gamesmanship in regard to Clifton Hunter has spanned multiple governmental administrations, led by both major parties. This is not an “either/or” issue when it comes to the PPM and the UDP: It is a “both.”

In the face of the poor valuation report, the Ministry of Education’s modus operandi — that is to “rewrite and revise” — was congruent with government’s wonted behavior whenever unwelcome information presents itself.

Recall, if you will, perhaps the definitive moment in such “sanitization” by the Ministry of Education, when in early 2013 then-chief officer Mary Rodrigues engaged staff members in rewriting a highly critical report on behavior in Cayman’s government schools.

Following the rewriting process, officials then tried to “bury” both versions of that behavioral report, and then, after the reports were effectively “leaked” to the public by lawmakers, officials actively resisted releasing emails that demonstrated who altered the initial report, and why.

Since the sanitization incident, Ms. Rodrigues moved from her education post to a role leading a special team tasked with implementing “Project Future,” the Ernst & Young report on downsizing and streamlining Cayman’s public sector.

And our readers know well what has happened there — history, as it were, repeated itself … this time not through a rewriting of the report, but a reinterpretation of it, with the government effectively transforming the goal of “Project Future” from making government smaller and financially sustainable into, well, something quite different (including a rallying cry in support of the government’s major capital projects).

Which brings us full circle, in a sense, and provides us with the opportunity to reinforce the point that if we do not pay close attention to the past and present actions of our officials, then in the future we shall surely pay another way — with our pocketbooks.