While information technology was playing a larger role each day in public governance, the Cayman Islands was slashing its IT budget year after year, finance records reveal.
Government’s budget for the Computer Services Department, which handles IT services for central government entities, was about $12 million during the 2008/09 fiscal year.
Following a series of annual reductions, by 2013/14 the budget had been cut to less than $6.5 million. In the current year, 2015/16, the budget is just under $7 million, according to Acting Chief Officer for the Ministry of Home Affairs Wesley Howell.
“At a time when government has more demands on IT services, the IT budget was shrinking,” Mr. Howell told the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee on Friday.
Mr. Howell is not banking on a significant increase in funding to computer services for the upcoming government budget year. Rather, he said the mission and services provided by the department would have to change.
For the most part, he expects a greater reliance on outsourced day-to-day operational activities for IT.
“It’s already happening at this point, it’s not coordinated,” Mr. Howell said.
Newly appointed Computer Services Department Interim Director David Smailes told the committee Friday it was unclear to him at this stage “what services we provide to government.”
Mr. Howell and Mr. Smailes’s statements were made during a review of a 2015 audit report that indicated the government’s IT infrastructure is vulnerable to external and internal sabotage, that development of the system has been “ah hoc” for a number of years, and that IT management and security “has not been a priority” for government managers.
Former Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick reported on the situation in 2012 in a review that was shielded from public view. Auditors made the follow-up 2015 evaluation public after determining government had done little to improve a dire situation with IT security and that in some cases the problem had gotten worse.
A number of other areas covered in the report revealed the depth of government’s IT deficiencies. No one was hired for a two-year period to review and maintain IT security for the system, Mr. Howell confirmed. He said computer services staffers “did the best they could” at the time to cover the gaps.
Another potential gap existed within the statutory authorities and government-owned companies that operate separately from the central government. In many cases, the Computer Services Department does not provide services to those entities, which hire their own technical staff.
Mr. Howell agreed that no one was looking at the 26 outside agencies to see if their security procedures were adequate, and that these entities, which include Cayman Airways, the Cayman Islands Airports Authority and the Health Services Authority, were on their own.
“We have a collection of silos,” Mr. Howell said.
Mr. Howell said a “baseline” recommendation for minimum government computer security parameters had been sent to Cabinet for review. However, he said computer services still has “financial challenges” and might not be able to perform all those functions under the current budget.
When the Ministry of Home Affairs took over the Computer Services Department in 2013, it began to replace some IT hardware and software, but noted the department was still operating based on “incremental changes” to the budget, not the “radical changes that we feel are needed.”
“This is a … national matter,” he said. “IT affects the entire Cayman Islands, not just one department.”