EDITORIAL – Ensnared in Cayman’s $50M ‘safety net’

Three years should have been ample time for the Cayman Islands government to fix the country’s broken social welfare system … or at least get started.

Officials had been given a roadmap to reform, in the form of a comprehensive audit from 2015 detailing the major failings of Cayman’s $50 million “safety net” – actually a patchwork of improvised programs, supports and handouts – which lacks an overall strategy, meaningful accountability and, sometimes, any legislative framework.

What also seems to be missing is the requisite political will on behalf of our elected leaders … and, apparently, an appropriate amount of concern for proper stewardship of the public funds involved, or for the well-being of the residents who receive the assistance (or those who need assistance, but cannot currently obtain it).

A recent assessment by the auditor general shows that government officials have so far failed to develop the primary framework that will be the basis for future reforms.

The auditors state, “The Ministry of Community Affairs has started work to develop a social assistance strategy, although timescales are not yet confirmed.”

That is a generous way of saying they are still at the drawing board, and they do not have a “due date” by which to hand in their homework. (To this we’ll add a favored expression of ours: The difference between a doer and a dilettante is a deadline.)

More specifically, ministry officials told auditors they have formed a working group to review data and outline a business case – work that is preliminary to developing the aforementioned strategy. Auditors say there has been no change since they last updated their observations, back in July 2017.

So much for the drawing board. The ministry has not even decided on using pencils vs. crayons.

While officials procrastinate, the problematic social programs continue to consume $50 million per year in taxpayer funds – without it being possible to know if those resources are going to the right people, for the right purposes or in the right amounts.

Is $50 million too much to be spending on social welfare programs in Cayman? Is it too little? We do not know. Nobody knows. That is the main problem.

Clearly, amid all the spending, pockets of poverty persist in Cayman, and fundamental needs (i.e., food and shelter) go unmet in some segments of the population. Of particular concern are the elderly, young children and people with physical or mental disabilities – those who cannot take care of their own needs without assistance from greater society.

In a community as prosperous as Cayman, which is rich in terms of collective wealth and charitable benevolence, there is no acceptable excuse not to care for our most vulnerable citizens.

Our thoughts on social welfare are straightforward: People who are truly in need (and only those people) should receive what they need – no more, no less.

At the same time, officials must be vigilant over all expenditures from the public purse, and not waste taxpayer funds on poor management practices, ineffective programs or misallocations to adults of sound mind and body who should be providing for themselves.

Cayman’s mantra must always be “self-reliance.” To allow our country to devolve into a welfare state would not only be fiscally unsustainable for our minuscule population, it would constitute the end of the society created by the “Cayman Miracle.”