Governor Anwar Choudhury has pledged to “shred or burn policies or bits of bureaucracy” that serve no apparent purpose. We say: “Burn, baby, burn.”
“Everywhere I look, I see unnecessary bureaucracy that ties up the civil service … and delivers nothing but frustration for the customer. You sometimes wonder why people are working so hard, and the outcome doesn’t match up,” Governor Choudhury said.
We have some ideas. Apparently, so does the governor.
In an interview with the Compass (see page one of today’s newspaper), Governor Choudhury said he is leading a thorough review of government policies and procedures, looking for ways to streamline civil service processes. Already, he said, the review has yielded nearly two dozen targets for elimination, including at least one department’s arbitrary rules preventing employees from assisting customers before 8 a.m., and banishing burdensome customs forms for airport arrivals. (He could probably spend the rest of his tenure with us just eliminating superfluous forms.)
The governor is insightful in his observation that much of government’s workload represents “soul-destroying” busywork that keeps an army of civil servants occupied at the expense of citizens, who are forced to navigate a tangle of bureaucracy to accomplish even routine tasks.
While the governor is working at cutting back on processes and paperwork, we urge him also to take the logical plunge into the government’s real “cost center” – that is, the size of the civil service itself.
We favor taking what is called a “zero-based,” or blank-blackboard approach, evaluating the value and necessity of each activity in the public sector. (In other words, the first question should be, “What is the consequence of not performing this activity at all?”)
A look at the record reveals that Cayman’s civil service has grown at an astonishing rate over the past four decades. Consider:
In 1975, there were 556 government employees, representing just under 4 percent of our island’s population of around 14,000 persons. A decade later, government payroll had more than doubled to 1,367 workers – 6.5 percent of the islands’ 21,017 souls.
But by 2016, public sector employment (including central government, statutory authorities and government corporations) had expanded again to somewhere around 10 percent of the islands’ total population, accounting for 15 percent of all employment. In fact, after proclaiming “austerity measures” during the 2008-09 economic downturn, the civil service ranks actually included more staff at the end of 2017 than it did a decade earlier.
This is as disheartening as it was predictable.
And consider what Cayman’s residents receive in return for their overly large investment: Underperforming schools; an overwhelmed court system; roadways punctuated with potholes; uncollected garbage; long lines and confusion in every customer-facing department – from immigration to social services to DVDL.
Further, these official figures do not include the hordes of “volunteers” serving on well over 100 politically appointed bodies that handle much of the government’s business – from permanent residency applications to building and work permits to financial services regulation, to the administration of health insurance and pensions … the list goes on.
Fortunately, for Governor Choudhury and the rest of us, we do have a clear path out of our morass. Two reports, commissioned by government, paid for by taxpayers, but largely unimplemented, show the way. We refer to the “Miller-Shaw Report” and its successor, the “Ernst & Young Report.”
Reading consultant reports does not rank high on our list of pleasures, but these two are exceptionally authoritative, enlightening and convincing. In fact, for Governor Choudhury, who seems intent on improving the delivery of government services, we would suggest they are MUST summer reading.