2018: The year in editorials

The editor’s editorial is a newspaper tradition the Compass is pleased to continue as an expression of our commitment to community leadership. Today, as part of our year-end review, we look back at excerpts from notable editorials published over the past year.

Drive, drag or tow: Derelict cars have got to go (Jan. 5)

… In the height of tourist season, visions of broken-down or abandoned vehicles are hardly postcard-perfect. The images of immobile automobiles are more aligned with hurricane relief missions than luxury vacations.

The problem is not just one of perception. In many cases, these vehicles can present clear safety hazards, as they are being left for days or weeks alongside (or even on) some of the busiest stretches of asphalt in Cayman, including the Esterley Tibbetts Highway and West Bay Road …. The problem has come up publicly in the past, but this latest iteration has been accumulating since last fall, when the Department of Environmental Health began curtailing – and eventually stopping altogether – the acceptance of cars and scrap metal at the George Town landfill …. The collection and disposal of automobiles must be accounted for in long-term waste management plans (whether they are to be executed by the government or the Dart Group, which has been chosen to build and operate the country’s new waste management facility).

But in the short term, the solution might be much simpler, requiring only two ingredients: a tow truck and a parking lot. The government owns several plots of flat land that might well serve as suitable cemeteries for these once proud, but now expired, mechanical beasts.

Major (but not terminal) problems arise at new airport (Feb. 1)

The Compass published, with some reluctance, an article and photograph on Page One of yesterday’s newspaper, which depicted, verbally and visually, an incident nothing short of misery at the newly opened arrival hall at Owen Roberts International Airport.

Our initial reluctance stemmed from our awareness that any enterprise as complex as the opening of a new airport facility is going to have glitches, snafus and, inevitably, some confusion and missed cues. “Opening nights,” on Broadway or elsewhere, rarely go according to script.

Nevertheless, we were hopeful that there would be a simple cause – perhaps mechanical failure of baggage conveyor belts – to explain the long lines of arriving tourists snaking from parked planes, into the airport proper, through the immigration checkpoint, on to baggage retrieval and customs checks, and eventually off to various resorts, hotels or other final destinations.

Alas, we learned that, unfortunately, there was no “one-off” mechanical failure …. Indeed the ostensible problem – long lines of unhappy tourists – was, in fact, simply a manifestation of a multitude of operational mishaps – many of them emanating from bad (or nonexistent) planning, others simply from bad luck …. To their credit, Minister [Moses] Kirkconnell, Airports Authority CEO Albert Anderson, Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith and other airport brass and staff were in nonstop meetings yesterday to deal with what is obviously an intolerable situation …. C’mon, Cayman. We need to, and can do, better than this …

Best wishes to Governor Kilpatrick as she departs our shores (March 5)

When Governor Helen Kilpatrick arrived in the Cayman Islands in the summer of 2013 … She brought with her a valuable skill set, given our position as one of the world’s offshore financial centers and our challenges in responsible fiscal management, financial controls and timely reporting …. During her tenure as governor, Ms. Kilpatrick oversaw implementation of “one man, one vote” election reforms and improvements in financial reporting by government and its statutory authorities. She made appointments to key government positions – including police commissioner, auditor general, and our islands’ first ombudsman – that will shape our islands going forward.

She leaves the office in the capable hands of Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, who will serve as acting governor until incoming Governor Anwar Choudhury arrives on March 26 with his family ….

Consultants’ reports: What did we get for $35 million of advice? (March 14)

… In the best cases, consultants can offer experienced, impartial analysis and recommendations for government action.

Having said that, it is difficult to adjudge, in a vacuum, whether the nearly $35 million government spent on outside consultants over the past five years was too much, too little or exactly the right amount. Such an assessment depends on the value of what was received in return – and government’s willingness to act on that information ….

Auditors report that government does not routinely monitor how much it spends on consultants, nor does it consistently consider the return on investment (the proverbial “value for money”) when engaging consultants.

They found that while many of the contracts were awarded through a competitive open process, others (which should have been) were not.

Auditors learned that government does not have standard terms and conditions for contracts, nor does it regularly evaluate consultants’ performance – both of which, in most large functioning organizations, constitute routine standard procedure.

And then there is the question of what government officials do with the expertise they have requested, purchased and received.

In basic terms, the “consultant tree” yields only one type of “fruit” – reports – usually filled with observations and recommendations. It is the managers of an enterprise, in this case government officials, who decide whether or not to act on the reports, how and to what extent.

Positive marks for new school inspections regime (April 9)

Education officials appear to be delivering on their promise to evaluate thoroughly government schools’ performance and to make their findings public. That is a welcome change from the past, when critical reports were massaged, edited and even buried from view ….

The new inspection process, designed by Peter Carpenter, director of the Office of Education Standards, aims to be collaborative, factual and in greater alignment with accepted accreditation methods. School administrators, teachers, parents and students play a role in the process ….

A more rigorous inspection regime will not “fix” Cayman’s troubled government schools system – we believe that will require a fundamental transformation in our model of public education. Whether our elected leaders have the foresight or political will to carry through such a revolution remains, at best, unclear.

That being said, the new approach to school inspections does appear to be a positive development, perhaps primarily in that it injects a much-needed spirit of honesty and accountability into our all-important education system.

Government’s failure to pick up the trash: How hard can it be? (April 20)

… For months, local residents, including North Side MLA Ezzard Miller and Newlands MLA Al Suckoo, have been airing complaints about the Department of Environmental Health’s inconsistent collection of garbage …. Garbage collection is among the “unsexiest” functions of government, but it is a fundamental service that impacts a diversity of core government responsibilities, including environmental health, public health and economic vibrancy. What tourist (or resident) would want to spend money in a place littered with unsightly and unsanitary refuse?

As our readers are well aware, dysfunction at the Department of Environmental Health goes beyond missed garbage pick-ups. When workers do collect the garbage, the problem then becomes where to put it. The landfill, or at least certain sections of it, is practically full or approaching capacity …. We know that Christmas only comes once a year, but given the untenable situation of uncollected garbage, perhaps it’s time for a heavy-duty spring cleaning campaign.

Straightening out Sunday liquor sales: That is the spirit (April 25)

Last Friday marked the end of one of the more, let’s say, “interesting” chapters in Grand Cayman’s regulatory history, as the Liquor Licensing Board gave the official green light to 12 businesses seeking to sell alcohol on Sundays …. It appears that the new chairman has brought a much-needed sense of law and order to the board’s deliberations, and by extension the competitive landscape of Cayman’s liquor industry.

For the record, the Compass never took a position on the question of whether businesses should be allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays. What we have stood for, and will continue to advocate for, is that the Liquor Licensing Board – and all governmental bodies – operate in a transparent, impartial and consistent manner …. When it comes to liquor licensing, Cayman’s patchwork scheme of ad hoc regulations, “grandfathered” exceptions and individualized permissions should be swept away and replaced by rational, universal standards for any and all applicants.

Investigations into government employees continue to grow (May 1)

A probe into the possible misuse of government resources adds yet another name to the already-lengthy list of public officials who have been sidelined by investigation.

National Roads Authority Managing Director Paul Parchment has been placed on leave by the authority’s board of directors, which also has commissioned an investigation into allegations “into possible misuse of NRA resources by a senior employee,” according to a statement issued by Board Chairman Donovan Ebanks last week …. Given the number of times government has found itself in this situation, one would think a quick, decisive routine would have been firmly established by now. Not so …. As Governor Anwar Choudhury continues to develop priorities for his term, we urge him to pay close attention to this issue. From where we are sitting, the bar for dismissal from the Civil Service appears to be set absurdly high.

Using Cayman’s charities as pawns in a ‘rigged game’ (May 11)

The altruistic individuals who comprise the Cayman Islands charitable community toil tirelessly (and for the most part, for no pay) to make our community safer, kinder and healthier …. But after reading the severely worded email sent this week from the Ministry of Financial Services and Home Affairs, one would be forgiven for thinking our nonprofit community constitutes a syndicate of criminals, thieves and money-laundering terrorists …. Cayman’s new law … requires nonprofits to register and submit financial records and information about directors, controllers and owners to the General Registry …. The quixotic legislation targets the best-behaving members of our community …. It distracts them from their good works, creates new layers of administrative overhead (and government bureaucracy) and discourages donations from privacy-conscious individuals … and for what? To try to look good for outside organizations that are so inherently opposed to the idea of offshore finance that they will never be satisfied by either appearances or reality.

Britain and Brussels: The double threat to Cayman’s economy (May 24)

At the beginning of May, the U.K. House of Commons acted to force public registers of beneficial ownership upon the Cayman Islands and other British Overseas Territories. Now, that the House of Lords has acquiesced to the lower chamber’s version of the relevant legislation, the betrayal of Cayman and our sister territories by the U.K. Parliament is complete …. Meanwhile, on the “eastern front” of the war against offshore financial centers, the European Union is poised to decide (most likely in December) which jurisdictions make its “white list,” “blacklist” or perhaps remain on its “gray list,” where Cayman now resides. Financial Services Minister Tara Rivers is in Brussels this week, lobbying on our behalf.

In regard to the British legislation, Premier Alden McLaughlin has been both active and vocal ….

Regardless of the best efforts of our elected members, at home and abroad, we must not lose sight of the fact the Cayman’s “A Team” cannot be found on government benches but rather in the financial services industry itself. Cayman’s private sector, understandably, is far more knowledgeable and able in all matters financial than its public representatives, and it is, therefore, paramount that they inform and participate in our strategy going forward ….

The governor’s ‘withdrawal’: What happened? (June 15)

Just more than two months after his arrival, the Governor of the Cayman Islands is gone – in bureaucratic-speak, “temporarily withdrawn.” What is unspoken, but readily presumable, is that he is unlikely to return.

Whatever the actual intentions of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (in conjunction with top officials in the Cayman Islands), the manner in which they have handled the situation involving Anwar Choudhury has had the direct effect of besmirching the name and character of a 15-year diplomat with decades of service in the U.K.’s public, private and military sectors.

Additionally, the mystery-cloaked “withdrawal” of the governor has left Cayman without the leader of our executive branch of government, the “CEO” of some 6,000 employees in the public service, and the titular head of the country, deriving his authority from Her Majesty the Queen.

What is Mr. Choudhury’s alleged offense? Did it happen in Cayman, or elsewhere? What is the nature of the “number of complaints?” Who made the complaints? What does the FCO’s investigation entail? What are the potential consequences? What has happened to our governor? …

A workable solution to social welfare (Aug. 9)

The Cayman Islands economy is a rising tide. However, there is a small but significant, and apparently growing, segment of the population that is not equipped or positioned to benefit equally from our country’s general prosperity.

… Although it may be somewhat counterintuitive, it is not surprising that more and more of the lowest-income earners find themselves unable to keep up with the rising costs of living (particularly housing prices) that accompany developmental growth and uplift in demand from the upper end of the economic scale …. There is no single or simple solution to the persistent problem of unemployment. Nevertheless, few would disagree that in order to inoculate future generations against poverty, a society must provide access to excellent market-sensitive education. Every young Caymanian must be prepared to compete in the local and global economy, which is increasingly one and the same.

Additionally and importantly, for individuals who are able to work, social services should be structured to provide temporary “lifeline” assistance, not access to a lifetime of welfare dependency, which too commonly evolves into an multigenerational cycle.

With few exceptions (such as the elderly or disabled), the goal of social services should be to find the shortest path to gainful employment and self-sufficiency.

A no-compromise commitment to public education (Aug. 24)

The Alameda Unified School District School Board, which presides over Oakland, California, and cities in the San Francisco Bay area, this week amended its student dress code to allow students to attend classes in halter tops, tube tops, ripped jeans and pajamas …. In contrast in Cayman, where students will return to public schools on Monday after their summer break, they also will be adjusting to a revised dress code, announced on Monday by Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and Education Council Chairman Dan Scott.

No tube tops here. The code itself is no-nonsense – uniforms, pants worn at waist height (not halfway down the butt), short hair (no Mohawks or shaved lines or words), no flip-flops and no jewelry other than watches. Clearly, this new policy is about more than simply attire and couture. It is intended to send an unambiguous message that the classroom is a serious sanctum for learning, order and decorum.

It is a message we wholeheartedly support ….

Effective learning cannot take place in a disorderly or chaotic environment. Period. No single student, or clusters of multiple students, should EVER be allowed to disrupt the education of an entire class. Toughness is called for here – “understanding” can come later.

Most important, principals, the education ministry, the education bureaucracy (meaning the administration), and parents, must privately, and publicly, support our teachers in their quest to do what they were hired to do – teach. Everything else is secondary to that basic mission ….

Iguana eradication: Funding the war Cayman must win (Sept. 4)

The Department of Environment appears to be moving closer to implementing a massive cull intended to stop the spread of invasive green iguanas on Grand Cayman.

They are asking government for a $7 million funding infusion and are seeking bids from private companies to manage the multi-year program that aims to exterminate 1.4 million of the beasts in the first year, alone. We support and applaud their initiative and encourage government to fund fully this effort. It is an ecological battle we must not lose.

The stakes could hardly be higher: Every year – indeed, every day – that Cayman’s green iguana population goes unchecked, its population grows exponentially. Frankly, we are taken aback that this issue has gone unnoticed or unaddressed for so long by successive governments. Now we’ve got a gargantuan mess on our hands ….

Cruise pier: To be or not to be? (Sept. 21)

… After years, even decades, of discussion, the contentions for and against building cruise piers in the George Town harbor are no doubt familiar to many of our readers. Although cruise berthing proposals have been around nearly as long as cruise ships have been visiting Grand Cayman, the idea has arguably never been closer to realization …. Transforming the George Town harbor by investing in a cruise dock constitutes a very serious, long-term commitment by Cayman to the cruise tourism industry.

Petitions are circulating with the purpose of forcing a referendum on the cruise project. Whether or not Caymanian voters do get that chance to weigh in at the polls (and many would argue that did happen during the 2017 general election), Cayman as a country must have both eyes wide open to the potential benefits and risks of this landmark project ….

‘Conspiracy of silence’ surrounding the Choudhury affair (Sept. 26)

If British officials believe last week’s two-sentence statement on the removal of the territory’s governor will be the final word in the story of Anwar Choudhury in the Cayman Islands, they are dreaming “happy dreams.” … We assume we will never learn much more about the governor’s removal from the FCO or Mr. Choudhury, but information may come out through other sources.

Certainly, Premier Alden McLaughlin is under no obligation to maintain the FCO’s brand of silence …. Remember, the governor and the FCO work for the Queen, but the premier and our MLAs work for the people of Cayman.

Godspeed and good tidings to Cayman National (Oct. 18)

For good reason, many people think of Cayman National Bank as “the people’s bank” – a homegrown success story with deep community ties …. And so, it is in some ways understandable that the bank’s pending sale to The Republic Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (Barbados) Ltd. would engender strong feelings locally, including some concerns and even fears.

Frankly, we look at it somewhat differently.

Cayman National may rightfully be considered a community treasure by many, but it is also a publicly traded company with duties and fiduciary responsibilities to its shareholders …. As business decisions must be, the board’s recommendation and investors’ ultimate decision were based on careful consideration of facts ….

The Compass Editorial Board takes no position on the shareholders’ decision to sell the bank. We would only point out that sands shift and times change. Cayman today is not the same as Cayman yesterday, nor will it be the same Cayman tomorrow.

No company – or country – can be governed by either nostalgia or resistance to change. But that does not prevent us from observing, with a touch of sentimentality, that Cayman National is moving on to its next evolutionary stage ….

A heartfelt welcome to our new governor (Oct. 22)

Perhaps the third time will be the proverbial charm. In recent months, Cayman has had two short-term governors … Now Martyn Keith Roper will soon take up the Governor’s post full time.

… By all accounts, Mr. Roper is superbly qualified to excel in his new assignment ….

We in Cayman would be wise to remind ourselves that U.K. representatives are here, first and foremost, to represent the interests of their home country. All high-level diplomats on foreign soil have to deal with that reality. The best of them do it with grace and aplomb, but no one in Cayman should be displeased or surprised when Mr. Roper puts the interests of England above those on the ground in Cayman. That is part of the “bargain” that goes along with territories being part of the U.K. family ….

Mr. Roper, and his predecessors, have broad – even Draconian – powers to enforce and ensure such notions as “good governance,” national security (meaning particularly the police), and, ultimately, the performance of the civil service.

These are consequential responsibilities and, at this moment in Cayman history, all are in need of serious review, if not outright remediation and repair.

But, it is not the intent of this editorial to frighten Mr. Roper and his wife “Lissie” (as he calls her) away. Quite the contrary.

We are confident they will find our “verdant isles” to be populated by a people who are genuinely friendly and universally welcoming. All are eagerly anticipating their arrival and looking forward to their stay among us.

First days: Mulling the culling debut (Nov. 1)

Grand Cayman’s deputized bands of iguana hunters are focused on the iguanas, while the general public apparently is shifting its focus to the cullers themselves.

To be certain, the “numbers” the cullers are producing, admittedly based on the earliest of returns, are nothing short of impressive.

By the close of opening day on Monday, cullers turned in to the landfill 13,819 “former” iguanas. On day two, they deposited an additional 9,835 iguanas, meaning that, within a span of 48 hours, nearly 24,000 iguanas were removed from Cayman’s trees, lawns and swimming pools.

Clearly, as time goes on, these numbers will decline as the iguana population shrinks and the “easy kills” will become fewer and fewer …. Let’s get on with this unpleasant business. Because of government’s unforgiveable idleness and unbelievable silliness (Lizard Lottos?) in combatting our iguana invasion, we find ourselves in a horrible human, animal and environmental mess. Let’s get it behind us as fast as is humanly (not necessarily humanely) possible.

Another $4.53M in life support for CINICO (Nov. 20)

… The last time CINICO made headlines in the Compass, it was after CINICO’s appointed Board of Directors summarily terminated the employment of ex-CEO Lonny Tibbetts, who had served in that position for eight years. Neither at the time or since has any public official given any reason, explanation or clarification as to why Mr. Tibbetts was fired, beyond “information which recently came to the attention of the Board of Directors and which has been investigated” …

Aside from lingering inquiries about Mr. Tibbetts’s departure, there are many questions about Mr. Tibbetts’s successor, chief among them being, “Who is it?”

Who is in charge, right now? Who is running CINICO?

In the grander scheme, on numerous occasions over the years we have published warnings, in the form of government’s own estimates, of Cayman’s increasingly exorbitant public healthcare liability of $1.7 billion over the next 20 years. Nothing, to our knowledge, is being done to prepare for that – certainly not the economically elementary (but politically risky) step of passing on some healthcare costs (in the form of premiums, deductibles or copayments) to individual civil servants on CINICO’s plan ….

A closer look at our country’s ‘foreclosure’ law (Dec. 6)

The Law Reform Commission is inviting public comment concerning several suggested modifications to the Cayman Islands’ “foreclosure” regime …. It is critical that laws governing mortgages and forced sales of property be simple, clear and fair …. In the discussion paper, the commission questions whether borrowers adequately understand lenders’ legal rights in regard to forced sales, whether the current legislation causes the incurrence of too many legal fees (passed along to the borrowers, who as a rule are already in financial distress), and whether a bank-forced sale advertised as a “Bank Sale” or “Foreclosure” artificially deflates the true “market value” of a property (primarily to the disadvantage of the borrower).

Tales of lost homes are often poignant and full of sorrow. From the standpoint of policy and principle, though, the ultimate responsibility for understanding and adhering to contractual commitments falls upon the individuals who are signing on the dotted line. Yes, legal contracts (including mortgage documents) can be lengthy and abstruse. Lawyers who can translate legalese into plain English can be expensive. But when it comes to a significant financial and emotional investment, such as the purchase of a home, it is absolutely mandatory that you know exactly the commitment you are making ….

1 COMMENT

  1. The taxpayer has a right to know why Mr Tibbetts’ employment was terminated, are we ever going to find out? It is time that Government stopped treating the public with contempt by terminating senior public servants (e.g Head of Immigration), accompanied by a conspiracy of silence.

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