A recent report from a special committee set up by Cayman Islands lawmakers confirms what many of our readers may have already deduced — that, instead of saving up funds in order to replace government vehicles (including ambulances and police cars, as well as garbage trucks) on a regular schedule, officials have been diverting those funds for other purposes.
As committee leader George Town MLA Roy McTaggart observed, “This results in the lack of adequate cash balances when the asset has reached the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced.”
Mr. McTaggart was, of course, a prominent accountant in the private sector before entering elected office. But the situation Mr. McTaggart describes isn’t strictly a problem with “dishonesty in accounting” by government; it oftentimes leads to a waste of financial resources provided by taxpayers.
Instead of purchasing new vehicles when the old ones reach the end of their useful lives, officials are paying for pricey repairs to keep older vehicles on the road for a long time after that strategy has ceased to be cost-effective. While it is necessary and prudent to keep vehicles maintained and in good working condition, as most car owners know, at a certain point it simply becomes more expensive, in the longer run, to keep repairing and re-repairing a vehicle than it is to buy a new one.
In the case of emergency services, the pure problem of cost is compounded by the issue of vehicular availability. The difference between an ambulance being at the ready, and being stuck in the garage, could have very grave consequences.
That’s why you see altruistic-minded citizens, such as the nonprofit Cayman Heart Fund, stepping up to raise money to buy a new ambulance for the Health Services Authority.
We, however, have counseled against relying on private efforts to supplement public shortcomings. We wrote in mid-October: “The proceeds of such goodwill result in the masking of government’s deficiencies, and so fundamental imbalances are never addressed.”
Our government’s problem with misallocation of resources (with nearly $1 billion in annual revenue, “scarcity” is no excuse) goes far beyond service vehicles.
For example, take a look at one of government’s most-treasured “assets,” the millions of discarded tires at the George Town landfill, which we cannot seem to get rid of, despite government levying fees of $2 per tire — logically for the very purpose of disposal … but in reality for “general operations” at the dump. Or, broaden your vision, and consider the greater Mount Trashmore as a whole. The government has no money in the bank to fix the hazardous landfill or to start a new facility somewhere else, although officials identified the looming problem more than 25 years ago.
In a recent editorial on the subject of Cayman’s inadequate infrastructure, we posed this question about building to prepare for an economic expansion: “Do we have the money and, if not, how are we going to finance our future?”
The answer is straightforward, but not easy. Except in rare instances, such as deep-pocketed investors like the Dart Group paying for specific projects that ordinarily would be financed by governments, money for public infrastructure and assets doesn’t just fall from the sky. Rather, cash reserves are grown over years and decades, through careful stewardship by conscientious leaders with foresight.
When it comes to financial resources, Cayman is a wealthy country. When it comes to fiscal discipline, prudence and long-term planning, Cayman is coming up short.