Archive for May 3rd, 2010

Mac criticises AG’s report

| 03/05/2010 | 25 Comments

(CNS): The premier has opted to criticize the findings in the auditor general’s report on government accounts rather than those responsible for failing to meet the requirements of the Public Management and Finance Law. Last week McKeeva Bush called the report “significantly lacking in usefulness” and that it “falls short". Bush denied that it was a national crisis or that government did not know what expenditure has occurred but that the expenditures have not been audited. He did not comment on the point that while government may know, without annual reports it is very difficult for the public to know how public money has been spent.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly, Bush said that he could not put a firm date on when the accounts would be up to date but he indicated that many of the outstanding financial statements would be finished by June this year. Bush did not say when those annual reports would then be tabled, making those accounts public documents. Nor did he reveal when he expected the first of the government’s entire annual reports to be tabled in the parliament, finally enabling the people to see exactly what government has spent on what and why, going back over more than five years.

Not for the first time, Bush criticised Dan Duguay for speaking publicly about his report. The premier said that the second edition of the State of Financial Accountability Reporting painted a dismal picture of the financial management systems but that the AG had not taken the time to understand what the real issues were, despite the considerable recommendations in the report, which the premier did not comment upon.

“Having read the auditor general’s report, I find that it is significantly lacking in usefulness to help guide the government out of this current backlog,” Bush said.

The report, however, offers five clear recommendations on the way forward, including how best to use the task force to help get the accounts up to date and to introduce consequences for the failure of senior government accountants to do their reports.

“It is easy to criticize and hint at some for of inadequacy but it is far more productive for someone to take time to really drill down and understand what the real issues are and then make meaningful and practical recommendations to overcome some of the deficiencies identified,” the premier added.

While Bush said he was not there to make excuses he blamed the problem on the PMFL and said its introduction was a fundamental change which affected the entire culture of government. He said it introduce a “complex and extensive” system which was designed to hold government ministries, departments, agencies and companies responsible for their own budgets.  

Confirming previous announcements that his government would be seeking a reform of the law, Bush said that while PMFL contained some excellent aspirations, after six years the Cayman Island “still had some distance to travel” to meet its obligations.

During the debate regarding the government’s first changes to PMFL which was to remove the requirement for government to present its budget to parliament two months before the fiscal year end, opposition member Alden McLaughlin warned that while the law required some changes government needed to be careful not to erode the principles of good financial management. He noted that there had been a clear indication over the last few years that the public sector needed to enhance its financial management systems not make them worse. The PPM member pointed out that even in the Miller/Shaw report the authors pointed out what was missing from PMFL.

Defending the principles behind the law, McLaughlin said, “I have heard people say PMFL is too sophisticated and complicated for this small island and was designed for much bigger governments, but I don’t believe that is the case. Our challenge is to improve it and find out why it is not being implemented.”

Continue Reading

Economic benefits and social consequencies

| 03/05/2010 | 26 Comments

Just the other day I read a news story of a gentleman from Indianapolis, Indiana flying over to Wales for a medical operation. The lowest cost he could find in the USA was $34,000 – in the UK he got the same procedure done for £1,700.00.* There is definitely a market out there for Shetty’s hospital.

Whereas the economic success of the hospital and its actual owners is not really in question, the same results for Caymanians do not appear nearly as guaranteed.

Had there been a history of around the corner queues of Caymanians trampling over one another to enter the myriad of health professions I would be more optimistic.

The health industry is NOT, I repeat, NOT a glamorous one. Have we forgotten, for example, that the vast majority of Caribbean people who emigrated to the UK in the 50’s and 60’s did so to fill up many of these posts. The custom of "3rd world" nationals emigrating to the super nations as health care employees is still in full effect. That alone should put some degree of doubt or skepticism in the minds of people when considering this proposal. I am not trying to be an elitist, as I actually believe this very attitude is a major contributor to our current state of affairs, but I strongly believe in calling things the way they are.

We have long been regarded as a country with one of the highest standards of living in the Western Hemisphere, boasting a higher average salary than the USA, UK or EU etc. Therefore, the subsequent mindset of our people really has to be taken into consideration at a time like this.

It is important that we are clear of what we are talking about when we mention"health care".

Most Caymanians that have since drank the kool-aid are now harbouring pipe dreams of an unnaturally high number of world class Caymanian surgeons and specialists (insert the "How dare you suggest that Caymanians are unable to become qualified doctors!" remarks). This is not what I am saying at all people, but we need to be realistic when it comes to simple statistics. We are a tiny community and world class doctors, as would be required by such a facility, do not come a dime a dozen nor are they concentrated in a tiny island of 45,000 Caymanians.

Therefore, if we are to seriously consider the actual "opportunities" that this project will bring for Caymanians then we need to be focusing on the more achievable and available support roles of a medical facility: nurses, nursing assistants, general assistants, carers, therapists, porters, rehab, workers, etc.

How many Caymanians do we know that are sitting around just hoping that a few of these posts would open up to their satisfaction? What is the ratio of Caymanians to expats that actually fill these posts in our existing medical centers? What actual salary levels will be offered by Shetty’s hospital? Will these salaries be sufficient to maintain the average Caymanian living a basic Caymanian lifestyle (not 8 adults crammed in to a 2 bedroom bargain apartment)? Will the prospect of home ownership in the Cayman Islands even be a foreseeable one by way of these salaries? These concerns, in my opinion, are of fundamental importance. However, I am disappointed with the lack of attention being paid to them thus far.

I am sure many may object to my perspective on this issue and some will in fact insist on a necessary shift in regards to the typical Caymanian mindset, to which I would agree to some extent. However, this is much easier said than done as can be witnessed by the current uproar in the UK (and EU) in regards to the recent influx of Eastern Europeans that are "taking all of the jobs" – may I remind all that immigration is the #1 concern of this upcoming UK election.

In any event, posts will have to filled at the Shetty Hospital – and they will be. I am of the opinion that at the time its doors are opened there will not be nearly enough prepared (mentally / skilled) Caymanians to take up said posts. However, there are literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of Indian (and other) nationals eyeing this proposal with baited breath. While I am of the opinion that this project could, in fact, be beneficial for actual Caymanians, provided all of the above issues are properly addressed and enacted upon, I am afraid that all of this requires time and a gradual evolution. In the meantime, substitutes will be found.

This carries the further risk of even lower salaries, for I am willing to bet my left pinky that no skilled, experienced, immigrant worker will be let go in order to empower a newly qualified Caymanian. Business simply does not work this way.

Other concerns, of course, are the social issues that will no doubt arise with the (suggested) immigration of high numbers of Indian / Asian nationals into a predominantly Black / Brown Caribbean country. (Yes I said it.)

We all know of the great (color based) North vs. South Indian divide. We know of color politics in that country – to the point of its entrenchment in the very tenets of its predominant religion / way of life – Hinduism. By now we should all have heard about the "untouchables" within Indian society.

Seriously, I ask – has any consideration been given to this at all in regards to this overall proposal. These issues are alive and well throughout all levels and sectors of Indian culture. Not to mention the economic and social clan-like nature of Indian people. Actually, it could be argued that certain exclusionary elements of Indian culture has worked well for them as a people when they have emigrated into wider societies, however, such practices run therisk of being a hindrance more than a help onto the Caymanian way of life. Certainly, by now many may feel somewhat insulted or shocked by my words. However, again, I am just calling it the way I see it.

Anyway, I just wanted to highlight a few issues that I felt were being overlooked in this overall project. As we can see there are many potential pitfalls and risks involved. Sadly, Caymanians have a long history of not loving or respecting themselves enough to acknowledge the existence of many of these associated risks.

In any event it appears that all systems are "go" on this project. I guess there is nothing more to say than "we shall see". However, I believe that the fact that we have to rely on a "fingers-crossed" approach at this stage of such a significant development is quite a short-coming on the behalf of our government.

Oh yeah, almost forgot – I hope we are all prepared to be further criticized and attacked by the USA media and politicians as we prepare to eat some of their supper. The US health care industry is BIG business! Let us hold on to our hats. The news blitz will be amazing for every botched operation at the "Shetty Hospital".

* CNN: ‘I can’t afford surgery in the U.S.,’ says bargain shopper

Continue Reading