Panel queries public spending

| 22/01/2010

(CNS): The failure by the country’s civil servants to manage the cuts which were mandated during the previous administration has been called into question by Auditor General Dan Duguay (left). Despite requests by the then Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts in 2008 to cut expenditure by at least six percent, Duguay said few departments actually achieved any savings in public spending and in may cases actually increased it but no one has been held to account. During a panel discussion held at the Cayman Business Outlook conference, financial consultant Paul Byles also raised the pressing need to address the spending part of Cayman’s budget equation.

Duguay was greeted with thunderous applause when he answered a question by moderator Gary Linford about the future of government accounts, accountability and spending. Duguay said he couldn’t understand why when senior public servants had been asked to make those 6% cuts, most departments failedto make any reductions to their operating expenditure yet no civil servant had lost their job or been questioned as a result of failing to follow a government directive. “The question is, how did we not hold people accountable for that?” he asked.

Duguay said his department had actually managed to reduce spending by almost 12%, demonstrating it was possible despite his current resource issues. As the man whose job it is to monitor value for money by government as well as the accountability of public spending, he said, calls to address the government expenditure side of its budget had to be heeded.  

Reflecting on the last year in the face of the economic recession, the AG noted that the civil servants had failed to deliver. “We did not do a good job financially,” he said. “Why was every chief officer not called to account? We really need to get in touch with our expenditures as it is the only thing we can control. It is time to stop talking about it and try to start doing it.”

During the panel debate Paul Byles, MD of Focus Consulting, also stressed the problem of Cayman’s ever growing public sector spending. The moderator, Linford, made the point that the premier had spoke many times about Cayman becoming the Singapore of the Caribbean. He then asked Byles how the Cayman Islands civil service could reach the same ratio as that successful Asian economy, which instead of close to 4,000 public servants would mean it should have only 800.

Byles said that all of his life he had heard the message about a bloated civil service that needed to be cut and, conversely, civil servants making the case that they were efficient and under pressure. “We must do something,” he said, adding that it was not just a matter of a simple argument between efficiency or an over-bloated public sector but that government simply could not afford to sustain the continued growth. “It is a serious economic issue and the quickest way to deal with it is divestment,” he added.

The debate followed an extensive speech by the premier, in which among many other things he had spoken about was the need to listen to the private sector’s concerns about the cost of government.

McKeeva Bush told the audience at CBO on Thursday morning, which was dominated by people from the financial services industry, that government would be divesting certain areas currently falling within the civil service. He said he was considering privatising things such as garbage and sewage management, Computer Services,  Pedro St James, the Turtle Farm as well as the very profitable Water Authority, but he fell short of saying there would be job cuts in the public sector.

 “The government has received a clear message from the business community as well as the wider community that the government needs to reduce its expenditures,” he said. “Maybe there are those who don’t like the idea that the private sector tells us what to do, but the hard facts are that the government gets its revenues from the private sector.”

He said he intended to examine closely which areas of the public sector could be privatized without negatively impacting prices and performance.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I was amazed to discover how easy it apparently is for cronie "consultants" to get around the intention of the government tendering rules. It seems that all that is required is to split a contract covering a long period of time into several parts, each part covering a short periods of time so that the contract price for each short term part come out to less than $50,000. Another trick apparently is to take a contract and give part to the "consultant", another part to one company owned by that same "consultant" and a third part to another company owned by that same "consultant", etc., etc., until the amount paid for each part is less than $50,000. Yet another trick is to give part to the "consultant", part to the "consultant’s" wife, part to the "consultant’s" wife’s company, etc., etc.. Another trick is to have one Ministry pay for part of a contract and another Ministry pay for a separate part so that each part is less than the tendering threshold. In these ways it appears that huge amounts of money can be taken from the hard pressed tax payers of this country and given to cronies, all in schemes that apparently are perfectly "legal". In my view, playing tricks to comply with weak legislation inorder to cart off the people’s money when no commensurate value is provided is disgraceful. I don’t know if any collusion is required to make such schemes work but perhaps the Auditor General or Ezzard Miller ought to look at what is really going on.

    Why don’t we insist on an end to such practices as one way to control the outrageous amounts of our money that are being spent by government.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The quickest way of reducing the cost of government would be to fire all of the paid "consultants". They seem to be providing questionable advice on the basis of apparently untendered and therefore also questionable contracts at a time when government can ill afford such largesse at the public’s expense.

    Mr. Byles’ reported suggestion that the quickest way to reduce public sector expenditure is to divest government services is clearly non-sense, assuming any divestiture is to be done on a cost effective basis.  Divestiture is probably needed, but to do it transparently in a way that benefits the country rather than just a few who are given access to bargains will take time. Further, divestiture is far from a "fix" if government keeps wasting money on "consultants" and the civil service continues to grow.

    Government also needs to drastically cut the out of control travel budgets of Ministers and their cronies, and to stop all hiring of consultants and civil servants completely. It needs to enforce the efficiency, performance and accountability of all civil servants, removing any who do not perform and any who are in "Make Work" posts which serve no purpose other than putting a bottom on some seat or fulfilling a political payoff.

    Hopefully the Auditor General will conduct a value for money assessment of any and all payments made by this government to its "consultants" on the basis of untendered contracts. The Auditor General was right to question why department heads were not fired for failure to rein in expenditure. Hopefully he can also investigate any squandering of money on public funds on "consultants" and spin doctors.  

  3. Billy Five Patties says:

    In early December the Irish finance minister announced mandatory salary cuts for all public servants as part of the drastic measures to address the appauling state of that government’s finances.

    Does Mr Bush have the courage to accounce that as premier he will take an immediate 25% cut in remuneration, rewards forMLAs will be cut 20%, senior civil servants 10% and junior civil servants 7.5% ?

    Sacrifices must start at the top but everyone must be involved. 

    • Anonymous says:

      He does not have the courage to do this.  He is all talk and no action on this topic.

      Bush Day 1: "We must cut civil service spending"

      Watler Day 2: "No you will not"

      Bush Day 3: "We have found way to avoid the need to cut civil service spending"

      Watler Day 4: "Good boy Mac"

      Bush Day 60: "I need a personal chef"

    • Joe Bananas says:

      The answer is glaringly apparent to anyone that does not have his or her head so far up the Cayman government money hole that they can’t see daylight. And that number is huge.  The day Bush starts doing things for the people instead of the Government (His people) it will snow in George town.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Weeding out unnessary ‘consultants’ would go a long way towards cutting public spending.  Ironic isn’t it that that very ‘consutant’ who is suggesting that the civil service is too boated is taking a heafty chunk out of the government coffers in his ‘consulting fees’.  Did someone say something about people in glass houses….

  5. Anonymous says:

    One sure way to curb public spending (or, in this context perhaps waste is a better word) is to weed out the unproductive public officers in government departments and public authorities who are getting big salaries and ‘trimmings’ such as company vehicles. This is particularly true of some senior officers who take their seniority as license to be totally indifferent, inefficient, unproductive and in many cases, downright rude because they can’t be bothered to deliver value for their fat salaries and refuse to respond to email or phone calls. There is a particular case where two such officers are required to submit information from their respective departments for the compilation of a critical national document. Since February 2009 and September 2009 respectively, they were contacted and to date neither of them has responded and have both ignored repeated follow-up attempts. Of course, if the document is compiled without their information, they’ll cry ‘foul’. But putting their egos aside, the public interest is held hostage and short-changed by such unprofessionalism. Problem is, there are dozens like them who are staining the good image and reputation of the hundreds of other hard-working and dedicated public officers.

    But there is generally no accountability in the public service  – not just fiscal accountability. In the case  mentioned above, it is known that one of those two senior officers is a waste of public funds and in some ongoing re-structuring, the word is that ‘no one wants him’ but yet his superiors let him continue in his unproductive and inefficient performance, instead of just booting him out! Ironically, about 8 or 10 years ago he was washed out of the private sector for the same reasons and drifted into the public sector because of his political (and secret organization) connections. With forces this powerful, where does one start and who follows through? The efforts of Dan Duguay as Auditor General are to be applauded because he has shown his tenacity in exercising his mandate but sadly some of the same forces (not necessarily the same people) are eroding his effectiveness. 

    But public pressure can be more powerful and if our public at large was to demand accountability and value for money from those deficient public officers, change might happen. Now with forums such as CNS and the talk shows, the public should reveal whenever inefficiency and waste in the public service in encountered, name names when possible and basically draw a line in the sand. Enough is enough. 

    CNS: However, we don’t want to create a situation whereby public forums become an avenue for personal vendettas. Documented evidence of government inefficiencies would be welcome but we have to be careful that platforms like this are not abused. 

    • a brother says:

      This is an excellent posting. However, I must sympathize with the Premier because I do not believe he fully realizes the power of the "brotherhood" in the civil service. He needs to do what Tony Blair did in the U.K.

  6. Joe Bananas says:

    Want to have a real Banana Republic moment?  Just go and try to get anything done from a vehicle license to getting house plans OKd.  From what I have seen any competent private company could do the job with half the people twice as fast with one third the screw ups.  Starting with a competent and experianced compliance person It should be easy to get these department to get the work done in a timely and efficent manner.  The hardest part would be getting rid of the huge amount of dead weight in civil service.  Thats thousands of people who would not be missed at work especially by the customers.   Its going to take some one with extraordinary resolve to get that job done.  To really really get it done and not just  pretend  this time they will need to hire outside the usual suspects.

  7. Anonymous says:

    well said dan!

    if only we had peolple like you (an educated hardworking expat) in government……

  8. Dred says:

    Unfortunately this is a case of blah blah blah.

    Here’s the short and skinny…

    CIG is overbloated but Civil Service has them by the short and curlies and the Civil Service probably is of the opinion they need more staff and higher pay. So this amounts to a Mexican Standoff.

    This is why nothing was done. Civil Service won’t let them. They are like the US Unions.

    CIG needs more technology. They need to look at all their processes department by department. I would say especially the ones that deal with customers and see where they can cut back on manpower but introducing some sort of automation.

    Computer based application submissions I believe will cut back on some of the front of line staff. I believe there are quite a few application processes that could be computerised and payments via online also.

    • Anon says:

      I used to work in automating business processes such as this and I agree, it will work.  Not only would it work in automating the processes but if they used a good case management system it could also prove to be an invaluable training tool, and make procedures standardised and consistent – something which is very sadly lacking now.But it involves and incredible amount of up-front investment in hardware and software, and also in having people do the necessary data input to get the thing going.  However, once all this is done efficiency would be incredible and that fat can finally be cut – after all, no tax payer wants to pay all these government salaries for someone to sit around and do nothing all day… oh but then again, to a great extent that’s what we’re already doing, LOL!

    • Anonymous says:

      That is a good idea so long as they do not keep that mess called Computer Services to be in charge of the automated services. Much of the screw up with immigration is caused by them not providing the support and IT efficiencies needed.

  9. Anon says:

    One can’t help but suspect that the government’s reluctance to keep on the Auditor General is because they don’t like what he keeps telling them about the dire need to get their finances in order first.  A case of the truth hurts? 

    I am amazed at government expenditure right now, particularly in the light of Bush’s statement to the world that we are bankrupt.  The current government system is grossly inefficient and costly and the civil service is bloated to the extremes.  If the government concentrated on efficiency and accountability they could cut the fat and save way more than 6%.  Yet new commissions and bodies are being formed and new employees hired and no fat is being trimmed from the civil service.  The whole thing seems to me to be compounding existing issues and making them worse.  Without properly audited accounts now, how on earth is Cayman ever going to get its government expenditure under control? 

    • Anonymous says:

      Quite right Anon 13:05:

      I am not a fan of Duguay’s-too grandstanding. But he is dead right on this one. Government is afraid to hold their senior staff accountable/fire them etc because they are all voting Caymanians and would have to be replaced by Caymanians and there are not enough competent ones to go around.

      • Anonymous says:

        There are more than enough competent Caymanians to fill these top jobs, however are they competent enough to avoid political interference like Dan attempts?

        • Anonymous says:

          No, there are not, Mon 10;03. Why do you think there are so many very young Caymanians in very very senior posts, like Deputy Chief Officer and even (until the Election!) Chief Officer?

          • Anonymous says:

            Actually there is still a 35 year old Chief Officer in place. Very young for that level of responsibility and only in Cayman!

  10. John Evans says:

    I remember an amusing story about the Cayman Islands’ civil service.

    Apparently there are members of staff who only turn up for the annual Christmas parties, no one knows what they are supposed to do or even where they work but they are on the government payroll.

    Now that may be an exaggeration but a ratio of roughly one civil servant to every 13 residents raises more than a few questions, particularly when some of the most important (as in the ones that actually contribute to the good of the community!) departments are known to be deliberately understaffed. 

  11. Anonymous says:

    It makes sense to get rid of all of the stuff that doesn’t need to be handled by Government like Pedro St. James, Boatswain’s Beach, even water, garbage because those things sort of stand by themselves.  It does not make any sense to have Computer Services be outsourced because the costs would triple and because they touch each and every Government department.

    • Anonymous says:

      Nonsense – computer services are inefficient and archaic. Don’t believe me ?  My lap-top has greater capacity and file management capabilities than the entire immigration system. That is inexcusable.

      • Anonymous says:

        I am personally not a fan of CS.  But I have seen enough of what they do, andtry to do, to know that (like many government departments) they are tasked with providing the latest and greatest service without being provided the funds necessary to make the changes to bring the computers and computer systems up to the level they need to be at.

        I think government, for such a small community, tries to provide too many services.

  12. Anonymous says:

    How do you privatise garbage collection after the Premier has stated that garbage fees no longer have to be paid after the first half of this year?

    I suppose the bids for a business that is willing to collect garbage throughout the island for free shouldn’t have to go before the Public Tenders Committee.

    Or is this a sneaky way of increasing duty by 2%, tell us that you are going to give us something in return, and then take it away later?

    • Joe Bananas says:

      The same way you tell everyone that you will be leading the charge of revamping the work permit issues to actually make them work for us instead of against us just days after they started to really work hard against us because of the last charge that was lead by you.