EDITORIAL – The necessary wall between MLAs and civil servants

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.

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  1. Who represents the voters of the Cayman Islands? Is it the elected MLA’s or the DG? Who will be held accountable when the DG does not fulfill the will of the people? Maybe the DG position should be decided directly by the people so that there is some level of accountability.

    • The DG is not suggesting he, in any way, represents the people but he is making a very valid point that the role of legislatures is to legislate and decide policy and it is for others to implement the laws and policies.
      If you follow the same argument, then you would need to have judges elected and I think we can all see how dangerous it would be to citizen rights if these roles were politicised.
      In the vernacular, not for the first time, McKeeva Bush needs to wind his neck in.

  2. Too late Mr Deputy, and although we do not want a political civil service which is led by particular politicians this has been going on for quite some time, and now has definitely gotten worse, really worse.
    I have to agree with Mack , and I do hope others will consider that the position of Deputy Governor should be voted on, and chosen by the people. We need some accountability.

  3. John , so where is the DG position in this issue ? Where are his accountability ? I think that is what Mack and I is asking for is accountability . We don’t get much accountability in appointed , but in a elected position you stands a better chance , and the people have a option then.
    Then I think that some Judge’s should also have to be elected like it is in other countries .