A group of people hired to help clean up West Bay’s Barkers area during 2011-2013 as government-sponsored “park rangers” later formed a private landscaping company, which received a public sector contract in mid-2015 that did not include the Barkers area.
Now, according to members of the former rangers, no one is maintaining Barkers.
Government paid 10 people approximately $560,000 between April 2011 and February 2013 for grounds and maintenance services in Barkers – a remote section of beachfront and bushland that at one time was proposed to be designated as a national park.
The payments for that program, which came from the controversial Nation Building Fund of the former United Democratic Party government, ended in 2013.
According to the government’s Internal Audit Service, which reviewed the 2015 landscaping contract, those workers were moved to employment in the Recreation, Parks and Cemeteries Unit where they were paid lower rates.
However, that situation was only temporary, and Public Works Director Max Jones told auditors that the long-term plan was to “support the employees in becoming established as a private sector entity.”
This occurred with the establishment of a company called Tropical Landscaping.
“In order to achieve that aim, the Cayman Islands government agreed to guarantee Tropical Landscaping work for a fixed period at the same cost as was paid while the workers were employed by [the government],” auditors reported. The government stated that two payments totaling about $130,000 were made in 2014 and 2015. After that the landscaping services were bid competitively.
Tropical Landscaping won the competitive bid process in July 2015 and has maintained the contract since.
Internal auditors were concerned over a lack of tendering for the government landscaping work initially, which “makes it difficult to ascertain if value for money was received for goods and services procured by the Public Works Department.”
Failure to bid for such projects could result in excess spending and “missed savings,” auditors said.
Mr. Jones responded to the audit’s findings, stating that the Tropical Landscaping Ltd. contract “was a very successful endeavor.”
“[It] shows enormous value for money when compared with the starting point of the Cayman Islands government directly paying the park rangers,” Mr. Jones said. “It is also one of the few situations where [the government] has successfully privatized employees who were previously effectively on the [public payroll].” That method of outsourcing public sector employees was recommended in a 2014 consultant’s report by the Ernst & Young accounting firm. It appears the landscaping contract is the only example, thus far, of that type of outsourcing.
Miguel Smith, one of the former park rangers who founded Tropical Landscaping, said the company is still struggling along with five employees, all former rangers, but about half of the public areas it was maintaining, including Barkers, were “taken away” from the company and given back to the Parks and Cemeteries Unit to maintain. He said that happened about 18 months ago.
Mr. Smith said, from his perspective, Barkers looks like a mess now. “I don’t think anybody is doing anything out there,” he said.
Not all of the original 10 park rangers ended up working for the new company. Some, like Sarah Orrett of West Bay, left to pursue other endeavors, including seeking public office in the May general election. Ms. Orrett said much of the work done by the park rangers crew during 2011-12 has not been kept up and that many of the Barkers beaches that were cleared have become overgrown.
“It’s a shame,” Ms. Orrett said. “Most of us in the rangers had a close family connection to that land.”