EDITORIAL – Gov. Choudhury puts government on ‘burn notice’

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.

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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.

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  1. I don’t think that civil service being 10% of our population is alarming, but being 10% and ineffective is certainly worth taking a look at. It doesn’t seem to me that we are sprawling, but that we seriously lack in management/efficiency. For one, how on earth did we end up short of garbage trucks? Are DEH employees still working without proper health and safety regulations being enforced by its management team?

    Another serious malfunctioning department, but not limited to, NAU is seriously understaffed and its employees are unsuitable to assess the clients for their service; it must most certainly be the most difficult department to get any type of help from. The Governor can easily compare NAU to the Dept of Work and Pensions back in the UK and the assistance, training and social benefits that are managed and provided to millions of people in the UK, who gets the much-needed assistance in 14 days, while we just can’t get an effective service for 2500 people, many of whom are waiting for help for months, or like the gentleman from West Bay, die waiting for months for insurance to cover a pacemaker implant.

    Our critical, social services across the board are in shambles, not because they are so large, but because we operate arbitrarily, totally without regard but with much prejudice for those we serve, all with the mindset of: “dah jus de way it ees; we de gow-ment – wha you ga do ’bout it?”

    I don’t think it’s size that we need to look at – it’s the management, but I believe if the PAC, the Auditor General and Office of the Ombudsman are left alone to execute their duties without undue interference, change will come, even if at no other hand than “Shame”. The Governor is free to add whatever else is appropriate to enhance the services of the government, starting with mandatory humble, customer service training and then its implementation and constant usage, as I’ve never seen employees deal with the public as aggressively as the Cayman Islands Government to those receiving their “service”.

  2. When you consider the numerous public services CIG doesn’t have to staff, like income tax collection, a welfare state and social housing, it’s a staggering figure.

    Having 10% of the workforce officially employed in the public sector plus all the boards and government-funded entities like CAL and the Turtle Farm is simply unsustainable. At best it’s a massive job creation programme, at worst graft and corruption – jobs for the boys.