“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes
Many issues of public policy are complicated. But many are not. For example: Is the George Town landfill receiving derelict vehicles, as Health Minister Dwayne Seymour insisted last Friday?
Or is it not, as previous Department of Environmental Health news releases and the personal observations of several lawmakers (and scores of residents) have also attested?
“There has been no stoppage in [sending] derelict vehicles into the George Town landfill … particularly where the vehicles pose a traffic or public health concern,” Mr. Seymour said, despite opposition lawmakers’ observations of broken-down cars languishing in their districts and complaints from constituents who say they have tried to dispose properly of derelict vehicles only to be turned away by landfill staff.
Perhaps Mr. Seymour was splitting hairs – distinguishing between a “stoppage” and a “curtailment” – and pointing to the 199 derelict cars the landfill has accepted since last October as evidence.
The practical question, of course, is this: If a Cayman resident has a derelict vehicle he or she wants to have carted off to the George Town landfill, will it be accepted for disposal? The answer is either yes – or no. Not, er, maybe …
In any event, the lack of linguistic clarity around derelict vehicles is just one of several ongoing red-flag issues concerning the DEH.
For example, at the same meeting of the Legislative Assembly, Mr. Seymour told lawmakers that in late 2017, the DEH was spending $100,000 per month in overtime for routine garbage collection. That number, we are told, has been reduced to a comparatively meager $25,000 per month which, of course, is positive news.
Nevertheless, we understand an Internal Audit Service review is still ongoing. Although the findings have not been made public, Ministry of Health Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn has assured the public that “There are no funds unaccounted for at Department of Environmental Health.”
Does Ms. Ahearn’s statement imply that all DEH funds, including (but not limited to) the massive overtime expenditures, were proper and managerially defensible?
“We are doing everything in our power to provide reliable, consistent service,” Mr. Seymour said. “No one is more anxious than myself to see this situation improve and normalize.”
What exactly is the problem?
Officials have at times variously pointed to: unavailability of garbage collection trucks, staff shortages, employee absenteeism, illness and vacation, personnel management and backlogs created during previous weeks.
In May, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson apologized on behalf of the civil service and promised the situation would soon be resolved. Meanwhile, the public is still in the dark about the status of Environmental Health Director Roydell Carter, or why he has been on leave since late last year.
The lack of clarity in communication in regard to the DEH’s problems is itself becoming a significant issue.
Maybe it’s best to begin at the beginning. Who exactly is the chief communicator on behalf of DEH?
Is it Minister Seymour? Director Carter (or his substitute)? Chief Officer Ahearn? Deputy Governor Manderson? Premier Alden McLaughlin (the previous Minister for Environmental Health)? Someone at GIS?