Several articles in the news this week have us considering that perhaps the only thing worse than hearing bad news is not hearing bad news – particularly when it should be coming from government.
In fact, we would go so far as to say our public officials have a duty to swiftly inform the public about slip-ups, detours and unexpected events – including potential health risks, extra expenditures or major public projects that are not proceeding according to plan.
Clearly, there is great opportunity for improvement in this regard.
Take, for example, this week’s revelation that the Department of Environmental Health recorded astonishingly high levels of faecal bacteria in the waters off East End — last October. Rather than issue a public health advisory, as many other beach-blessed government agencies would have done, the DEH released the information, months later, in response to a reporter’s Freedom of Information request.
Apparently, the DEH has no policy of alerting the public about high bacteria levels in the waters off our popular beaches. Moreover, the Compass learned that it is not unusual for the department to fall behind on quarterly water sampling.
The DEH told the reporter there was no report of illnesses appearing to have been directly related to last autumn’s unusual incident. Still, it is information the public should have known.
The second article that caught our attention disclosed the new estimated price tag of the Owen Roberts International Airport expansion. It was the result of another Freedom of Information request. According to the Cayman Islands Airports Authority, cost estimates have now reached nearly $68 million — around $14 million over and above original figures.
Officials told the reporter they would release final estimates when the airport upgrade is completed. But for a project of this size and scope, we think they could have been more transparent. Throughout construction, the public has been invited to all manner of ribbon cuttings, openings, ceremonies and announcements of the project’s progress. We also should have been privy to periodic updates about the cost.
Finally, there is today’s Front Page article describing a telling exchange between lawmakers during Monday’s Finance Committee discussion of a $298,000 appropriation to “increase staffing levels at the Governor’s Office” – a description which glosses over the true nature of the expenditure, in our opinion.
Indeed, it was only after repeated questions posed by opposition MLA Chris Saunders that it was disclosed that $148,000 of that had been requested by then-Governor Anwar Choudhury to fund unbudgeted costs for remodelling and entertaining.
It is not yet clear how much of that money was actually spent by the former governor, but one thing we can say with certainty: This slow drip of information in response to questions does not build faith in government.
Rather, our public servants should be forthcoming and take a more proactive approach.