EDITORIAL – Electronic plates: One question – Why?

The Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing may, or may not, be the most dysfunctional government agency in the Cayman Islands. It certainly appears to be, but that might be because its missteps manifest themselves in a highly visible manner on the country’s most “highly trafficked” areas – our roadways. The visibility issue is amplified by the sheer volume of vehicle owners and drivers who must interact regularly with the agency.

Nevertheless, it does seem that the DVDL has more than its fair share of foul-ups: unmaintained databases, millions of dollars in uncollected fees, nontransparent cash transactions, and, of course, the interminable “customer service” queues that plague the agency’s headquarters, and who can forget the “racing inspector” who, in broad daylight and in front of scores of spectators, wrecked a high-performance vehicle he was supposed to be testing?

The most recent example of DVDL dysfunction is displayed on the front page of today’s Compass, in the latest installment of the ongoing saga of electronic license plates and window coupons.

More than 18 months ago, then-Planning Minister Kurt Tibbetts announced the government’s intention to adopt “electronic plate” technology, with one of the selling points being that the new plates would allow police to monitor vehicles and issue tickets automatically.

Since that time, the government has followed through with the plan, contracting with an overseas vendor, earmarking $1.5 million for the scheme and issuing more than 16,000 new plates and coupons. And yet, as we report today, local police do not yet have the ability to scan the plates and coupons (which do not display, visibly, their expiration date).

For the time being, officers are operating under “the presumption … that all vehicles with the new electronic coupons still have valid registration as they have only recently been received,” according to Inspector Ian Yearwood.

Good heavens …

About a year ago, we on the Compass Editorial Board expressed our concerns about the government’s move toward adopting electronic plates. We wrote:

“It appears to us the electronic tag scheme has two possible outcomes: It is either a significant additional step toward transforming Cayman into a surveillance state, where public authorities employ watchful electronic eyes to oversee the behavior of all citizens, “just in case” – or, if the entire system never becomes operative, it’s another wasteful government boondoggle, where officials used taxpayer funds to purchase a bill of goods they can never fully utilize, didn’t understand and don’t want.”

The situation reminds us of Cayman’s extended (and expensive) foray into closed-circuit television cameras – a system that the country learned only years after it was installed, does not work particularly well at night … when, of course, most crimes are committed.

It also reminds us of India’s “Aadhaar,” an initiative to provide each of the country’s 1.3 billion citizens with a unique 12-digit identity number, based on biometric data, and which has been variously described, with the passage of time, as “the world’s most ambitious national ID program,” “a breach of privacy,” and “a national security disaster.”

The proclivity, and resulting track record, of governments trying to address (perceived) problems with the universal application of new technology leads us to offer, tentatively, the following theorem: the more people that are meant to be involved in a public sector scheme, the lower-tech the ideal solution should be.

In regard to Cayman’s electronic plates, officials have introduced cutting-edge UHF technology into an area where government had not yet achieved mastery of “metal” and “sticker” technology.

In our editorial last year, we posed a number of questions about the electronic plate program, several of which remain unanswered.

The most important was, and is, this:



  1. I don’t think any of us can improve on your summary of the situation, namely: “…it’s another wasteful government boondoggle, where officials used taxpayer funds to purchase a bill of goods they can never fully utilize, didn’t understand and don’t want”.

  2. One wonders is a Freedom of Information Act request for details of any / all payments by the supplier to Department of Vehicle and driving Licensing staff or for any ‘visits’ to see this innovation in action – and how long these trips lasted, etc. might unearth another reason why the department went with something so pathetic?

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