Premier: Social services programs ‘failing’

Ministry eyes budget cuts

A community meeting about crime in Scranton, George Town Wednesday night turned its focus toward social issues. Pictured here are attendees, from left, Dale Ramoon, RCIPS Superintendent Robert Graham, Commissioner Derek Byrne, Premier Alden McLaughlin, George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan and political assistant to the premier Frank Cornwall, Jr. - Photo: Brent Fuller

A number of government-funded social services programs are “not succeeding” in the various purposes for which they were created and may come under the budget knife, Premier Alden McLaughlin told a group of George Town residents Wednesday night.

“There’s a huge range of programs that we have in place, some for many years that … at least in name, appear to be dealing with societal issues,” Mr. McLaughlin said during a community meeting at Central Scranton Park. “The reality, I believe, is most of our programs are failing, are not at all fit for purpose and are not addressing the issues that we face.”

Wednesday night’s meeting was held with top Royal Cayman Islands Police Service officials, including Commissioner Derek Byrne, and about 25 residents to discuss concerns about growing crime in the troubled Scranton area, a narrow strip nestled between Shedden Road and downtown George Town.

Residents told the premier, district Legislative Assembly member Kenneth Bryan and senior police officers that drug dealing in the neighborhood is commonplace and that a number of high-profile shootings have occurred there in recent years – including the murder of Damean “Deebo” Seymour and a gang retaliation attack where about a dozen shots were fired at a home.

Premier McLaughlin said his administration would support additional funding for the RCIPS, particularly in the area of hiring more community policing officers to work full-time in local districts. However, the premier said – as minister of community affairs – simply continuing to hire police would never prevent the “root causes” of Cayman’s growing crime problem.

“It is a reflection of the failure of many of our intervention attempts,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “If we look at the makeup of Northward prison, we will see that most of [the population] is young Caymanian males, generally under the age of 30.

“Unless we get a grasp on those issues, these security concerns are just going to continue to escalate and the need for policing, greater security, burglar bars and security systems is just going to increase.”

Of the ongoing review of government’s social services, Mr. McLaughlin said, “I am not going to be very popular over the next year or so.”

The problem with government-funded social services and welfare programs was identified in 2015 from a broader perspective in a report from former Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick.

The audit pointed, in particular, to a need to improve organization and management of the Needs Assessment Unit, which is responsible for most of the government’s major social welfare programs.

“The audit found that there is no overall strategy that sets out the results being sought and the priorities to be pursued with the more than $50 million of public funds appropriated to social assistance programs,” Mr. Swarbrick wrote.

“These programs are not coordinated to ensure an appropriate assignment of responsibilities and a coherent approach to addressing current and emerging social needs. Further, in the absence of any measurement of results achieved, there is no effective accountability to the Legislative Assembly for this major portion of government expenditures.”

Mr. McLaughlin said Wednesday that in addition to the central government’s core social welfare efforts, a significant amount of money is paid each year to nongovernmental organizations, sports groups, community services and the like. The individuals who organize and support these programs are earnest and dedicated, the premier said, but too often there is no way to measure the effectiveness of what they do.

“Every week … some person, some organization, some church, some school comes to government and says ‘we have a great idea, we just need government to fund it.’

“How successful [the programs] are is the question we have to answer,” the premier said.

Mr. Swarbrick, speaking at the time about the result of his 2015 report, noted, “Government has not taken the necessary steps over the years to ensure it is providing assistance in the right amount to the right people at the right time, and thus [is] ultimately failing the people they are supposed to serve.”

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