Top stories of 2015: The year of the report

The theme for government in 2015 may well have been “The Year of the Report.” Ministers and civil servants have been going through a yearlong review of the EY Report, which calls for numerous government reforms. The Auditor General’s Office released a slew of audits and reviews highly critical of government IT security, revenue collection, accounting and other public functions. Other reports have covered conditions at the prison and the unmet mental health needs on the islands, and education officials watered down a report critical of Cayman’s public schools.

The public learned that one in five girls has been sexually abused. A U.K. inspector called the prisons “decrepit and squalid.” The landfill could be full in five years. Some domestic workers make as little as $4 an hour and some face abuse and sexual advances from employers. These facts are a small taste of what came out across numerous reports released in the past year.

EY Report

Government has been in a yearlong review of a 2014 Ernst & Young report that recommends civil service outsourcing, selling public lands and options to privatize parts of government. The EY Report recommends merging regulation of public utilities under one authority and merging the officers of the information commissioner and the complaints commissioner. Government said it has accepted both of those merger recommendations.

A number of decisions are on the table for government, including merging the Brac’s primary schools. Government will also have to decide on selling off Crown land and the potential to move some civil service functions to the private sector, such as security at the courthouse and IT services.

In a speech to the Chamber of Commerce in October, Premier Alden McLaughlin said, “Taken together, the EY recommendations we are accepting and any new projects we have identified represent an ambitious and comprehensive package of reform.”

Mental health reports

Three reports this year approached the issue of mental health in Cayman. First, a 2012 survey on adolescent health and sexuality by the Pan American Health Organization, released in the spring, found that almost 20 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 had been sexually abused as children. One in 20 of the almost 1,000 respondents said they were raped the first time they had sex. Almost a quarter said they had suicidal thoughts – and one in six of those said they tried to kill themselves.

A second report, this time from the World Health Organization, said Cayman had a shortage of inpatient mental health beds and needed a national policy for mental health. A new inpatient mental health facility is in the approval process to address the shortage of local treatment options and keep mental health patients on island instead of sending the most serious cases overseas. The WHO also found a shortage of mental health professionals, especially when it comes to treating children.

The third report, from Cayman’s Mental Health Commission, found that 4,000 people in the islands received mental health services. About 9 percent of those patients were 17 or younger.

Prisons inspection

A new inspection this year by the U.K.’s HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, following up on a 2012 inspection, found that despite improvements, Cayman’s prisons remain “decrepit and squalid.” The report, released in June, detailed the living conditions of the 200 men and boys at Northward prison and the 16 women at Fairbanks. The report notes that prisoners face “unregulated and arbitrary” punishment by guards. Inmates have easy access to ganja, the inspector wrote, and do not take advantage of educational and other opportunities.

“Fairbanks resembles a storage facility and was an oppressive environment that provided no stimulation for those held there,” the report states. “Many of the current facilities at both Northward and Fairbanks should be demolished and the rest should undergo complete renovation.”

The inspector called for replacing and refurbishing both prisons. “Most cells were dark and cage-like, and communal areas grubby, bare and devoid of equipment,” the report said.

While the healthcare services for inmates have improved since the 2012 inspection, the report singles out the kitchen at Northward as a particular concern. The kitchen, which also provides food for the women’s prison, “was in an appalling state and should be replaced immediately.”

The report commends the prison service for improving case management for at-risk inmates and people in crisis situations, calling the new system “a welcome improvement.”

Minimum wage

A committee studying low-wage workers in Cayman recommended setting a $6-an-hour minimum wage in the Cayman Islands, and $4.50 an hour for workers receiving tips or other benefits like housing. If the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee’s recommendations make it into the new Labour Law, it would mark the first time the country sets a minimum wage for employees.

While studying the wage issues, committee members found that domestic workers make an average of a little more than $4 an hour. Among households employing domestic workers, only an estimated 10 percent to 30 percent follow existing labor laws. Domestic workers reported working long hours without overtime and some said they faced physical, emotional or sexual abuse from their employers.

The committee also called for legislation to protect whistleblowers who make complaints about conditions or pay.

A slew of other reports

A business case on what to do with the landfill found that it could run out of space in five years, but noted that government had specifically told the consultants not to consider other sites. Instead, they recommended more recycling and burning waste to create energy in an effort to extend the life of the landfill as long as possible.

A report published last year on the schools, it was later revealed, was highly edited at the direction of then-chief officer for the Ministry of Education Mary Rodrigues. A sanitized version of the report removed pointed criticisms and strong recommendations. The selective editing came to light over the summer following a Freedom of Information request by the Cayman Compass.

A report from the Auditor General’s Office cited conflicts of interest on the Central Planning Authority board. Despite the call for reform, government reappointed all sitting members and left it up to the board to decide if they should have to fill out register of interest disclosures.

The National Building Fund, which ran from 2009 to 2013, was rife with problems, including money unaccounted for and building projects left unfinished. “This demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the use of public funds,” auditors wrote in the report, released in August.

Another audit found that Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly directed $125,000 in unspent government funding to buy a property on the Brac for affordable housing, but the affordable housing agency for the Sister Islands was never consulted. The report found several other instances in recent years of political direction in land purchases, with government paying more than the likely value.

The U.K. Crown Prosecution Service International Division reviewed Cayman’s justice system, and the resulting report called for “substantial reform” in the way police and courts handle criminal cases. The report cited poor communication between police and prosecutors, bad record keeping, unnecessary delays and a lack of accountability in the system.

A report from the United Kingdom
A report from the United Kingdom’s HM Chief Inspector of Prisons recommended some major overhauls at Cayman
‘s Northward prison.

The Law Courts Building in George Town.

The Law Courts Building in George Town. The U.K. Crown Prosecution Service International Division reviewed Cayman’s justice system, producing a report that called for ‘substantial reform’ in the way courts and the police handle criminal cases.

A consultant

A consultant’s report on the George Town landfill determined the dump would be full in five years.