Facing fire from certain elected members of the Legislative Assembly, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson etched a definitive and necessary line in the floor of the House, demarcating where the remit of lawmakers ends — and where the apolitical civil service begins.
Far from cowering under the verbal fusillade, the deputy governor not only defended himself, but rightfully reiterated that specific questions about human resources — individual hirings, firings, promotions and suspensions — fall squarely on the “civil service” side of the equation.
“I am not going to manage the civil service down here. There is a clear separation of powers,” he said.
The deputy governor is absolutely correct.
Running Cayman’s civil service is a Herculean task. Running Cayman’s civil service — with serious intrusion and interference by politicians — is an impossible job.
(The recent episode involving lawmakers and the deputy governor is, for us, all-too-reminiscent of legislators’ attempts to meddle in the functions of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, which resulted in the early departure of Police Commissioner David Baines.)
While the deputy governor’s parliamentary interrogators Wednesday happened to be independent MLA Arden McLean and Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, it is a common complaint from lawmakers that they can’t see their policies through without exerting control over (or getting buy-in from) civil servants.
Indeed, while independent and opposition lawmakers are usually the ones who air grievances against civil service managers in the Legislative Assembly, we can only speculate how much “behind-closed-doors” pressure is exerted by members of sitting governments, who have recourse to other, less-public venues besides the House floor.
Mr. Bush justified his inquiries into the civil service under the rubric of “constituent services,” since some of his constituents happen to be civil servants who ask him to explore those issues on their behalf. That’s a slippery, and potentially perilous, slope.
“We do not want a political civil service which is tied to particular politicians, and that’s the danger of taking this too far,” the deputy governor said.
Here’s the rub — Cayman’s lawmakers are dependent upon civil servants in two fundamental ways: 1) to get elected, because the civil service is the single-largest voting bloc in the country; and 2) to project their power.
And although we have devoted the bulk of today’s editorial to opposing politicians’ trespassing into the realm of the civil service, it is equally inappropriate, yet prevalent, for civil servants to cross over into political territory.
For example, too often if a large enough (or influential enough) number of civil servants decide they don’t like a particular policy, or politician, or project, they will slow down, stymie or bureaucratically bury the matter. (See: The EY Report and “Project Future.”)
It is not the role of the civil service to prevent lawmakers from accomplishing what they have been elected to do. But that represents one challenge for Deputy Governor Manderson (and ultimately Governor Helen Kilpatrick) to overcome. It doesn’t give lawmakers license to go beyond the bounds of Cayman’s system of government.