EDITORIAL – Seeing the world while working for government

There’s no place quite like the French Riviera in autumn … Or so we hear.

This week, several Cayman Islands public officials are finding out firsthand, as Premier Alden McLaughlin and Minister of Financial Services Tara Rivers lead a delegation to the annual Monaco Yacht Show at picturesque Port Hercules.

Cayman’s representatives are attending Europe’s largest in-water display of large yachts in order to network with “influential stakeholders” in a key component of our territory’s financial services offerings. While in Monaco – one of the smallest (population 38,400) and wealthiest (per capita GDP of US$162,000) countries in the world – our delegation will host an event marking the 60th anniversary of Cayman’s Coat of Arms.

While we tend to look with skepticism upon such “celebrations,” it is true that, for this particular audience, our Coat of Arms – when it appears on flags flown on mega-yachts – is a veritable “status symbol” and recognizable brand for our country.

There’s nothing untoward with Cayman being well represented at important functions that happen to take place in exotic locations. Particularly in the case of the premier, it is highly appropriate that he be the “face” of Cayman on the international stage. We would argue that for a premier or governor to be successful and effective, much of their work is composed of marketing and public relations. Our premier is Cayman’s Top Salesman.

Also traveling with Premier McLaughlin and Minister Rivers to Monaco are officials from Cayman’s Maritime Authority (which runs Cayman’s yacht registry, and has attended the Yacht Show for more than a decade), as well as political adviser Roy Tatum and Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose.

When it comes to travel for business purposes, it’s both the simplest and most difficult expense to justify. True, all of Cayman’s competitors and clients are going to be in Monaco, making it easy to argue that Cayman needs to be there, too. But how many should be in the entourage?

Will the presence of Premier McLaughlin, Minister Rivers, Mr. Tatum and Mr. Rose at the Yacht Show result in one more yacht being registered with Cayman’s Maritime Authority? That is probably an unanswerable question.

We do not intend to be overly critical, but perhaps the figure of $387,000 is fresh in our memories. That is how much Cayman’s Utility Regulation and Competition Office (OfReg) spent on travel in 2017 and the first half of this year.

We also recall the $27,000 spent by then-Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and her executive aide on a two-week trip to Qatar in fall 2012 for the United Postal Congress, including a several-day stopover in New York City.

The same audit showed that between 2005 to 2012, former Premier (now House Speaker) McKeeva Bush spent $1 million on travel. And he was far from alone: Over the three years from 2009-2012, central government “travel and hospitality spending” totaled $8.6 million.

In May 2014, Cayman’s auditor general’s office concluded that there was a “high likelihood that the government mishandled significant amounts of public resources” under a system that left travel spending virtually unchecked.

Since then, the civil service, spearheaded by Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, created new policies intended to clamp down on official travel spending. We are currently investigating the outcomes of that initiative.

The bottom line is, government’s travel expenses – like all of government’s expenses – should be reasonable, justifiable and accountable. In budgeting, every dollar is a decision. Are the dollars being spent to send a select few to Monaco worth the dollars that will not be spent on other government functions, such as social services, salaries or roadwork?

Additionally, when someone is traveling, even on business, it necessarily means they aren’t at their work desks. When calculating the expenses of travel by public officials, there is the obvious “monetary cost” of the travel itself – but also the hidden cost of the officials’ absence.

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  1. I believe the concerns in the 2014 Auditor General’s report not only related to the amount of Government expense on travel and entertaining, but that a lot of expenses were never properly documented, and amazingly on occasion, senior government officials were only required to sign a list of expenses for reimbursement without having to provide invoices or receipts. I hope this is no longer the case.