The Cayman Heart Fund, and all the members of the Cayman Islands community who pitched in, deserve praise for their successful campaign to raise $150,000 to buy a new ambulance for the Health Services Authority.
They should be proud of their efforts, which will result in a much-needed emergency services vehicle for the people of this country.
However, we cannot help but wonder if these kind-hearted volunteers would feel so good about their contributions if we were to frame our observations in a manner that is different, but equally true: That their yearlong campaign will result in government being able to provide an additional $150,000 in subsidies to the Cayman Turtle Farm; that the government will now be able to abstain from collecting another $150,000 of the tens of millions of dollars in outstanding debt owed to the Health Services Authority; or that the government can allocate $150,000 to a new initiative that provides pension payments to former one-term legislators.
Let us clarify further. The Heart Fund, volunteers and contributors are all doing good work. The new ambulance is a good thing. In fact, it’s a life-saving necessity.
That is precisely why it should have been an expense incurred by the public sector – not the private sector. By giving the government money for a new ambulance, the Heart Fund is effectively providing a subsidy to the government to continue pursuing projects that are less necessary, even downright wasteful.
(It should be noted, clearly, that not all donations, charitable contributions, or philanthropic gifts of goodwill fall into the ambit of our argument here. We are speaking only of the ones that subsidize government budgets, not those, for example, such as HospiceCare or the Red Cross that are private in nature.)
As we’ve written before, when the government is drafting its budget, every dollar is a decision and is an indication of how our elected leaders rank their priorities. Too often, the private sector, acting out of the most noble intentions, effectively provides our officials with the opportunity to shirk responsibilities that fall squarely within the public sector sphere.
When the Humane Society conducts spay/neutering programs or houses animals to be adopted, it spares the government from effectively addressing the societal problems of negligent pet owners, animal abuse and roaming feral creatures.
When professionals in the community provide numeracy and literacy programs in public schools, it takes the onus off of government to provide basic education to our young people.
When groups such as the Cayman Islands Seafarers Association or the Cancer Society donate medical equipment to the public hospital, it enables the Health Services Authority to keep from balancing its books or demanding the funding it obviously requires to function satisfactorily.
Altogether, when the private sector pitches in to shoulder what should be government’s burden, it allows our lawmakers and bureaucrats to avoid making tough decisions that might be politically unpopular, but are absolutely necessary.
As a rule, the voluntary contributions from the community may help address the symptoms of a problem, but, ultimately, also give the government an excuse never to fund adequately the necessary services it has committed to.
Put simply, if the Health Services Authority takes on the responsibility of providing ambulance services, it has to provide (and pay for) ambulances.