EDITORIAL – ‘Public Assistance’: The great government giveaway program?

In May 2015, the Office of the Auditor General published a scathing report on public assistance programs in the Cayman Islands, finding that government was doling out more than $50 million per year in welfare benefits with little oversight and no criteria.

More than seven months later, nearly nothing has been done to address the problems auditors identified. Officials, in fact, don’t know what they’re going to do. According to Chief Officer Dorine Whittaker, they do, however have a plan, which is … get this … to make a plan.

First, a brief aside. In our opinion, the Public Accounts Committee is largely worthless in terms of exercising meaningful authority, assisting the enforcement of laws and ensuring that repercussions are felt for mismanagement or wrongdoing. Its meetings often offer little more than a public platform for lawmakers to practice politics.

That being said, the PAC meetings do serve the interests of one segment of Cayman society in particular: that is, the news media. (Thanks!)

If there’s anything reporters love more than an easily digestible news item, it’s the opportunity for “one-stop shopping” to accumulate several stories at the same time. In that respect, the PAC meetings, to journalists on deadline, are the equivalent of Walmart on Black Friday.

Last week, the PAC reviewed eight separate reports from the Auditor General, ranging from land management practices, to IT security, to the Nation Building Fund. Most of the ground the committee explored was newsworthy, but none of those areas carried a price tag rivaling the eye-popping $50 million per year for public assistance programs. Few parts of government do.

To put Cayman’s welfare spending into context, the $50 million constitutes about 10 percent of core government’s spending. It’s more than the government spends on primary education services and secondary education services, combined ($45 million). It’s roughly twice the amount of government subsidies to Cayman Airways, and approximates to five Turtle Farms.

According to the Auditor General, a full 10 percent of core government’s spending budget is flowing out into the populace, pretty much indiscriminately, for whom and for what purposes, officials aren’t entirely clear. But rest assured, says Chief Officer Whittaker, they’ll soon have a plan — in the form of a business case by yet-to-be-hired consultants that may be ready by the end of 2016.

Now, we are on the record as being supportive of the idea and institution of rational, well-targeted social assistance programs, which Cayman’s is not.

As we wrote in an editorial last July, when the Auditor General’s report was released to the general public: “The problem with social services in Cayman isn’t the amount of money being spent, necessarily, but how that money is being spent  …  Rather than a properly managed public welfare system, Cayman has a patchwork of programs that, in part, act as an institutional disincentive to gainful employment by the able in mind and body, and foster a culture of government dependence … Every dollar that is given to someone who does not really need it, is a dollar that could have been given to someone who does.”

In addition to the unchecked and unmonitored public welfare benefits, consider the Treasury’s propping up of Cayman Brac’s economy through subsidies and line-item spending, as well as the long-standing tradition of lawmakers (and aspirants) handing out cash and goodies to individual supporters — which George Town MLA Winston Connolly described as “shut-up money.”

Then there’s the country’s biggest social assistance program of them all: the salaries, benefits and pensions paid to the nearly 6,000 employees in the public sector — far too many of them for a country the minuscule size of Cayman. Those costs, just for the 3,500 people in central government, amount to more than $250 million in the current fiscal year.

Especially disconcerting is that government appears as baffled as we are about who is receiving these funds, what were the criteria for qualification, and what are the projected future costs of these programs.

Expenditures of this magnitude — without strict accountability — could send the Cayman Islands to the proverbial poorhouse, raising the following question: To whom will we apply for “public assistance” when our own funds run out?


  1. I will only refer to your Social Service opinion. Once persons who work and supervise the Social Service is not paying attention to idle gossip from people, then, and only then will they be able to concentrate.
    You will hear people talking about others driving around in brand new SUV and so forth to pick up a social check. Most times family members of friends lend them their vehicle. Another thing you will hear is …..they dress up……… Why not dress up? Designer clothes can be found at the Red Cross and Humane society loft for three or five dollars any day of the week.
    I believe that if a person has reached the age of 65 and has no pension, no bank account and health failing, the NAU should consider assisting that person to the fullest. Come on what can you expect a person over 65 in that position to do.
    But in Cayman we just will not stop being unkind to one another, and suggesting if the person is not walking around naked and eating out of garbage cans or wearing tear up pants they are not in need. Nonsense.
    What we need to look into is persons who are young, strong and healthy and not from this island, reaping these benefits. Many Caymanians when they could work, contributed to society in one way or the other, however; life sometimes can take a different turn and like seeds some fall by the wayside and sprout while others fall on rocky ground.

  2. By the time you reach 65 shouldn’t one have at least some savings and a paid off home? Hard to do if one has lived beyond ones means for the previous years.

    And how many able bodied young men and women are collect money from the government when they could be working? Although a few may have a sideline in burglary and mugging.

    We don’t need high priced consultants. Or a year delay.

    We can start right now with a simple list. Namr by name.
    Who is getting the money? Age, address and phone number.
    What are they getting? How much and from what directions?
    Why aren’t they working? Too old? Too sick?

    Then if there is no reason these individuals need to be given a deadline of say 3 months to get a job because that’s when the taxpayer money stops supporting them.

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