Monday’s turnout at the NiCE initiative was a statement on the willingness of Caymanians without work, to work.
Some 500 people – one-third of the country’s estimated 1,500 unemployed Caymanians – braved long lines and stifling temperatures to sign up for the government’s National Community Enhancement Program, the seasonal cleanup project that pays temporary workers $10 an hour for their time and labor.
Although the putting of extra money in Caymanians’ pockets tends to get top billing in government materials, the NiCE program has at least two other objectives that are even more important to the individuals and the island: 1) providing opportunities for unemployed people to secure honest jobs; and 2) beautifying Grand Cayman’s public spaces.
The beach and roadside cleanup initiative provides much-needed employment for Caymanians struggling to find jobs. The project offers those individuals a chance to prove themselves, in the absence of usual barriers to employment, such as lack of skills, gaps in work history, criminal records or past battles with substance abuse. And far from being “busy work,” the goal of the project couldn’t be more substantive – making Grand Cayman a cleaner, healthier and lovelier place to live, work and visit.
It was a good idea for government to take its annual Christmas cleanup on the road in summer. Perhaps, here’s a better one:
Offer full-time public employment to each NiCE participant who proves to be a capable and reliable employee.
After all, keeping Cayman’s streets and beaches immaculate is an all-the-time undertaking, not a once-in-a-while endeavor.
For the sake of arithmetic, let’s assume a full-fledged Cayman Clean Corps would constitute 500 people making $10 per hour. Accounting for pension and healthcare, a force that size would cost government somewhere between $10 million and $15 million per year. With a purported half-year public surplus of $201 million ($67 million more than expected), there appears to be more than adequate room in the government budget.
For that public investment, our community would reap three key rewards:
First, the government paying unemployed people to work (rather than to remain unemployed) would immediately reduce reliance on government’s social services programs, including $50 million per year just on direct financial assistance, plus tens of millions of dollars in additional expenditures that are not more specifically accounted for in the government budget.
Second, since the Corps will be 100 percent Caymanian, nearly 100 percent of the wages will remain on island, recirculate through local businesses and feed the country’s growing economy. Among the 500 workers, you can be sure that any number of high-performers will rise to the attention of government and private employers, allowing these “shining stars” the opportunity to transition into the local employment pool.
Finally, and critically, a properly managed and deployed Corps would be an effective force in our country’s battle against litter and neglect of pride in our public places.
Given the country’s thousands of visitors (whose minds may be occupied less on the next trash bin than the next rum punch), and cadres of local litterbugs (relatively few in number), cleaning up Cayman is a full-time occupation, and one which should engender genuine pride, for a dedicated task force of professionals … not an intermittent opportunity for evanescent armies of well-intentioned volunteers.
We see no compelling reason preventing the government from transforming the seasonal cleanup program into a full-time public employment opportunity, beginning with the 500 applicants to the NiCE program.