With a series of executive orders, U.S. President Donald Trump has cut the ropes that tied the hands of managers hoping to hold their government departments and agencies to appropriately high standards.
Cayman Islands legislators should do the same.
The first order signed last week by Mr. Trump will make it easier to fire and discipline federal employees and will make performance – not seniority – a primary consideration in layoff decisions. That straightens out a discipline and termination process that, until now, has commonly taken six months to a year, followed by an average eight-month appeals process, according to a report from the New York Times.
The second order directs federal agencies to renegotiate wasteful union contracts.
The third limits the time federal employees can spend “on the clock” (and drawing a federal salary) performing union duties to no more than 25 percent of their workweek. Previously, there had been no limit – with some employees spending as much as 100 percent of their time handling union business.
While we would have preferred an order preventing federal employees from devoting any work time to such extracurricular activities, administration officials estimate that even this modest improvement will save the federal government at least $100 million per year.
With these three commonsense executive orders, Mr. Trump continues to fulfill his promise of significantly reforming an entrenched, entitled and underperforming civil service – an army of more than two million people living off taxpayer dollars.
In the Cayman Islands, a small territory with fewer than 65,000 people, approximately 6,000 employees (including civil servants as well as staff at government-owned businesses and more than 25 “authorities”) draw their paychecks from the public purse.
From our vantage point, rarely a week goes by without yet another noteworthy and “newsworthy” incident of dysfunction, incompetence, insouciance or outright illegality in the public sector.
In the absence of a formal union, successive iterations of Cayman’s Legislative Assembly, in efforts to appease the well-organized (and politically influential) Civil Service Association, have stacked the deck in favor of civil servants – to the detriment of nearly everyone else.
The benefits, perks, allowances and “protections” offered to Cayman’s government workers read like some fantasy “wish list” that would be granted by a genie, not bestowed, carte blanche, on real-life employees in a functioning business. Consider, for example, golden benefits packages, garden leave with full pay, a dismissal process so cumbersome and lengthy that it can be less costly (and less onerous) simply to reassign poor performers or pay them handsomely to leave.
As everyone knows (regardless of whether they work in government service or in private enterprise), in an environment where poor performance is tolerated and lack of accountability is commonplace, the organization itself becomes diseased and deteriorates.
In his writings, business consultant Peter Drucker wisely observed that without intervention, the natural progression of any organization is to decline. Therefore, it is the responsibility – perhaps the main responsibility – of management to ensure that the opposite takes place. Put another way, weeds, left unattended, will eventually overrun the most beautiful of gardens.
In the United States, President Trump knows that the only way to raise standards of performance is to raise expectations – and hold low-performing employees accountable when they fail.
In Cayman, we have our own new “chief executive,” His Excellency, Governor Anwar Choudhury. Constitutionally, Governor Choudhury is the ultimate authority regarding Cayman’s civil service (although traditionally, as the Constitution also allows, governors have delegated this task to their deputies).
We would encourage our new governor to develop a comprehensive understanding of the broad swath of Cayman’s workforce (and economy) that ultimately is his to oversee.