Lessons from history

| 02/05/2013

‘Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.' That is as true in Cayman today as it ever has been anywhere. A few days ago an article appeared on CNS regarding an effort by the Deputy Governor to improve the quality of decision making by statutory boards through the introduction of mandatory training for board members. The Deputy Governor is to be commended for taking the initiative.

However, our own history teaches us that pretending that people are competent to do a job on the basis of mere attendance at a course is a mistake. That has not worked for our education system. We should not repeat that mistake in relation to our government boards.

British naval history also offers lessons that we should learn from. Some 350 years ago, at around the time that the first people started to arrive in Cayman, the Royal Navy faced a situation in which cronyism, patronage and corruption in its administration nearly destroyed it. Contracts were awarded on the basis of kickbacks, politicians looted public funds and utterly incompetent people were appointed to senior command positions on the basis of patronage and what they were willing to overlook. Sound familiar?

A significant part of the solution that allowed the Royal Navy to recover and become the stuff of legends, came about as a result of changes to procurement practices and changes in the way people were appointed and promoted in the Royal Navy. We in Cayman need to learn both those lessons. A tighter rein is apparently being imposed on the wasteful self-interested spending of the past few years. It is now time for the Deputy Governor to improve the quality of senior management in the civil service. He needs to change the way people are appointed and promoted in the civil service, and he needs to hold senior management in the civil service strictly accountable in relation to everything that is required of them.

The Royal Navy Board did away with some of the worst of corruption and cronyism by introducing a system of formal exams that required applicants for leadership positions to demonstrate a sound knowledge of the rules and competencies needed by each level of officer. No one was promoted unless they could objectively show such knowledge and competence. Examinations worked so well in the Admiralty that they were introduced as a requirement for all senior civil service positions in England in 1854. Larger former colonies like Hong Kong also adopted these procedures long ago as a way of limiting corruption and cronyism. It is unfortunate that neither TCI nor Cayman did the same.

Today there are more than enough honest, able and well educated Caymanians to fill the positions on our government boards. Whatever might have been the case decades ago, there are more than enough people who don’t have conflicts of interest. The individuals we need on our boards will not be put off by perhaps having to learn some additional material, and they will not be not afraid of exams intended to demonstrate that they understand the legal and ethical constraints that govern government boards. We need to require every potential board member, as well as every person currently sitting on any government board, to pass such an exam as a requirement for holding a board appointment. After board members are appointed, we need to hold them strictly accountable.

The same is true in the civil service. It is my belief that the vast majority of our civil servants are honest and hardworking. However, the widely held perception that we now have senior civil servants who either have no idea of what the law requires of them or don’t care what the law requires of them, is easily understood. There are no examinations of either knowledge or competence required for promotion within, or appointment to, the senior civil service. There are no audits of whether senior civil servants are complying with the law apart from the narrow accounting audits done by the Auditor General’s department, and sadly nothing seems to be done about senior civil servants who either don’t know or choose not to comply with the laws they are supposed to uphold and enforce.

No one should be allowed to be at the level of department head or higher in our civil service unless they have demonstrated by objective examination a knowledge of the law that governs what they can legally do. No one should be appointed or promoted to any civil service position at or above the level of deputy chief officer unless they have demonstrated an excellent working knowledge of the Public Service Management Law and the Public Management and Finance Law and the Constitution.  

Mr Deputy Governor, I call on you to help make this country a better place. At present, honest Caymanians are put off serving on boards because of the scandals that have been allowed to proliferate. That must end and public confidence must be restored. We don’t need prospective board members to show up and sleep through a mandatory course. We need board members who have demonstrated a thorough knowledge of what is required of them and are willing to work for the benefit of the country.

Mr Deputy Governor, I also call on you to end the malaise that is growing every day in the civil service. That will require some tough decisions on your part to excise the rot and show that the system is fair. You need to enforce the laws and the rules that are in already in place, and you need to require your subordinates to both follow and enforce those same laws and rules. You also need to implement a fair system of objective exams for promotion in the civil service and to ensure that promotion by political patronage and ‘blind eye’ appointments is ended and rooted out. It is simply too easy at present for politically influenced selection panels to select cronies.

The country is ready forthose additional steps Mr Deputy Governor. Please step up.

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  1. Just Commentin' says:

    Learn a lesson from history? Joke, right? When it comes to Proverbs 26:11, the people of the Cayman Islands keep their belly always full.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The Royal Navy also had flogging and the yardarm.  We don't.

    • Anonymous says:

      Excellent suggestion but probably less effective than exams for selecting senior civil servants that at least know the rules that they are supposed to apply. Flog those who fail more than once?

  3. Anonymous says:

    to 18.41. This happens by people who have, or hope to be given, goverment contract being appointed, by a not from the politician, to selection panels that choses the senior civil servant. There a 'nod' from the politician directing them to which one of the applicants he can best 'wuk with' and they then follow that direction and go on to appoint that person to the  senior civil servant position. This newly appointed senior civil servant then goes on to renews or grants the goverment contracts to the person on the selection panel.  Do you see any conflict of interest here?? Does this fall within the scope of the anti-corruption law? Should persons on selections panels be independent and declare all conflicts of interest?


  4. Anonymous says:

    to 6.07 – what should bedone with civil servants who are political appointees? We should have a full independent inquiry into their appointment.

    If the Deputy Governor won't request the inquiry, then we should take the matter to the Governor and the FCO if necessary.  After all the Deputy Governor reports to the Governor and  his express mandate is on good governance.  

  5. Anonymous says:

    Senior Civil servant who don't know the law and the proper rules and procedure are a direct result of  all the political appointees that are masquerading as public servants who genuinely care about the well-being of the country. Public service should be a noble calling to serve.  Instead these politiical appointees use it as a means to feather their own nest.  A quick scan of the news headlines will show how many hardworking civil servants Mac pulled out because he couldn't wuk wit dem and put in his political appointees in their place.  This could only have been done with the complicity of the senior civil servants who didn't know the law or choose not to follow the law because they too were political appointees and therefore were loyal to the politician rather than the country at large.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Do we really have senior civil servants who don't know the law and therefore don't follow the rules and procedure?  That's clearly not acceptable!! How does this happen? Who ever appointed them in the first place?  Can someone please enlighten me?

    • SSM345 says:

      18:41, you will find their appointments were made possible by ministers who do not follow the law, I wonder who that could be…..?

  7. Anonymous says:

    I understand that the role of the Deputy Governor is to oversee the entire civil service but the jury is still out on whether Franz will ever require high level government employees to either know the law or follow the law. The suggestion of compulsory exams is a good one as if properly done it should improve the civil service.

  8. Anonymous says:

    No wonder the crime in Cayman has escalated the way it has. If our very civil servant can get away without not following the law. Why should anybody else bother to follow the law.  Are we supposed to be equal?  Our civil servants, especially our senior civil servants, are supposed to set an example for society at large. We need them to KNOW and FOLLOW the law and in the interest of our young people who may be inclined to follow their example, we must hold these civil servants ACCOUNTABLE when they act in an unlawful manner or in any manner that is not consistent with the values and principles of public service.

    • Anonymous says:

      "Are we supposed to be equal?"


      Nope. Some are more equal than others.

  9. Anonymous says:

    It high time we were able to hold our senior civil servants accountable.  They would no longer be able to hide behind 'plausibility deniability'. They would have no excuse for saying they didn't know the law or the rules or even the facts of the situation on which they signed off on.  Remember it is our civil servants who implement the policy of our politicians. These senior civil servants, and not the politicians, are the ones who approve the contracts of the various'consultants', appove the payments on the questionable credit card charges; approve the many questionable approintments including the removal of the persons the politician couldn't 'wuk wit'.  These civil servants are not above the law and must be held accountable for implementing the policies of the politicians WITHIN the limits of the law. No more excuses or room for plausible deniability!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Great idea!!  Finally we would be able to hold our sernior civil servants accountable!  Any potential politician who is committed to putting this through will get my large family's vote!

  11. Anonymous says:

    I don't believe that political appointees are a big problem in all departments. The problems are probably limited to the areasthat were controlled by the usual suspects who wanted to control who could see what was going on.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Is it really true that people can hold senior positions without having any idea of the civil service rules or the law? That could explain a lot.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Manderson's idea of a course for board members may not go far enough but we should not lose sight of the fact that it is a good start and give credit where it is due.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I seem to recall that before 1962 people who wanted senior posts in the civil service had to pass the civil service exams that were administered in Jamaica. Some how that fell by the wayside whichhas allow us to descend to where we are now.

  15. Anonymous says:

    A lot of the time it seems that the top brass in the civil service take the Captain Jack Sparrow approach – the law is really more like suggestions and any way it only applies at the lowest levels.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Tens of millions of dollars go through government companies and authorities every year. It is ridiculous that we don't already have some form of testing to make sure the people appointed to boards know what the laws are and what is required to oversee the handling of public money. It is no wonder that we are averaging about a scandal a week.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I am very grateful that we have an FOI Law and Mrs. Dilbert to apply it. So many of the things that have been revealed I would not have believed possible.

    I think that this idea of exams for civil servants is an excellent idea whose time has come.

    I also think Mr. Manderson's idea of courses for people that are going to be appointed to government boards is also excellent but I agree with Mr. Duckpond that there should be an exam at the end that people need to pass at the end before they are allowed to be responsible for public money.

    • Anonymous says:

      To the best of my knowledge,there is a Civil Service entry exam, the question is, what is the exam's content, what is the passing grade and how many attempts are you allowed!

      • Anonymous says:

        You pass the exam if you show up the interview, or in the case of managers the first day on the job.

      • SSM345 says:

        It's probably too difficult for the majority of them so they just don't take it, much like the exam for the bus / taxi drivers.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Transparency has to be part of improving the civil service. There should be an open public register of complaints from the public and from within the civil service. That way, we the people that pay the bills can see whether Mr. Manderson and those around him are actually doing anything to improve the quality of the civil service or whether it is all just window dressing.

  19. Anonymous says:

    A competent civil service that actually follows the law has to be part of good governance.

    Monitoring good governance has to involve objective testing of civil service competence, regularly auditing of civil service compliance with the law, and a zero tolerance for civil servants who don't or won't comply with the law.

    We have to adopt the habit of removing incompetents and the corrupt rather than just shoving things under the rug and waiting 20 years for people to be retired.


  20. Anonymous says:

    If we had whistleblower protection laws the stuff that would come out would blow people's minds. That is probably why we don't have them.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Here is a suggestion for the new government in relation to senior civil servants appointed in the past few years as a result of political interference.

    First change the law so that it can never happen again.

    Second establish an independent body to look at each case of political interference on its merits.

    Name, shame and fire those senior civil servants that were complicit in the political interference.

    Fire those politically appointed civil servants whose main qualification was their political connections.

    Demote all civil servants who were promoted because of political interference to a level at least one level below where they started so that people will know that they will not benefit from corrupt politics.

    Repeat the above 5 steps until the civil service is cleaned up.

    • Anonymous says:

      I like the idea of having an independent body appointed to clean up the civil service because there is no evidence that it will happen from the inside. A truly independent clean up crew would probably have to be appointed by the Governor and not by politicians.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Just look  at how much we had to pay out in  the Tom Jones mess.  This would not have happened if only our senior civil servants knew and followed the rules and procedures. Instead it was too easy for them to kowtow to the politician and do what was politically expedient knowing that they would not be held accountable.  At least with examinations they could not claim that they weren't informed them of the rules.

    Cayman is no longer a little back water where any 'good ole boy' from a merchant class family can run the country. We are striving to be among the first world countries dealing with mult-faceted domestic and national issues. We need senior civil servants with integrity who are able to  demonstrate their ability to understand the many complexities. Exmanination would be very useful in determining whether they have this ability.  The examination scores of the ones who are appointed should also be publically available.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I know that these are serious suggestions and probably good ones, but Mr. Duckpond clearly does not know the personalities involved if he expects anything to be done by those on the inside. If gambling were legal I would happily wager $1000 that the Deputy Governor will not follow any of these recommendations, even the obvious ones. It would be worth it because even if I lost bet at least my country would be bette run.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Morale in the civil service is the worst it has ever been. People have a chose between doing what is wrong and getting ahead or doing what is right and being persecuted.

    • Anonymous says:

      Its pretty bad and no one listens when the bad things that are happened are pointed out. Everyone except the bosses whith political connections are afraid to say or do anything.

  25. Anonymous says:

    We have had a lot of honest hardworking senior government people who have lost their jobs because of corrupt politicians and weak people at the top of the civil service. We must not forget what has happen to them. Honesty and hard work should be rewarded not punish. The govenor needs to fire any of the top people who is involved in anything that is against the law. That is the only way our house will get clean.

  26. Anonymous says:

    It is simply too easy at present for politically influenced selection panels to select cronies.

    Too true. That is exactly what has been happening with too many appointments in recent times. The politicians have thier go to people for the selection panels and they tell them who to pick and the next time round it the crony that got picked in the first round that is appointing more cronies. Fair exams is the only hope we have of stopping the cronies from controlling everything that they don't already control.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I don't belief that you can teach common sense or honesty to people beyond 16 but we may as well try these sugestions cause what we got now sure is not working.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Great Viewpoint but I would make one more suggestion. That is we should require all current civil servants from the level of deputy department head up to pass the same exams as those for looking for promotion. Those that don't get an A grade should be given 6 months to improve their grade on a re-sit or they should be fired or demoted back to the level of their incompetence.

    • Anonymous says:

      If we put a lot of them back to the level of their incompetence then at least the road sides would have less trash.

  29. Anonymous says:

    This would have been a good idea about 5 years ago but now we have a bunch of recent appointees at the top levels who are likely to be there for a long and expensive time. Putting exams in place will not do anything about them. The only thing that will is someone willing to remove the ones that are incompetent or don't follow our laws. The problem is that in the civil service culture that dominated when Mr. Manderson came up through the ranks nobody in management got fired no matter what they did. It is not likely that he is willing to be tough on people who cant be bothered to colour within the lines.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Two questions for you Mr. Duckpond.

    What do you think should be done with the senior civil service political appointees of recent years??

    What makes you think that the Deputy Governor would want to be part of the solution??

    • Anonymous says:

      If political appointments are not legal then the people illegally appointed aren't legally entitled to be in the position or to paid. Problem solved.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Having served on government boards I can say that there are basically two sorts of people, the majority who work hard to ensure that the people get the best services and the best value for money possible, and a few who are only there to see what they can get from the system. I like the idea of training and exams as in my experience that would eliminate some of those that are only in it for themselves.

    • Anonymous says:

      Also, in regards to the people appointed to boards, they should be replaced if they are missing meetings regularly due to conflicting schedules cause they should have never been appointed to the boards in the first instance if they know they won't be able to attend regularly.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Public service is largely about rules and procedures.  There should not be any arbitrary decisions. When senior civil servants don't know the proper rules and procedure they 'wing it' and invariably end up on the wrong side of the rules.  Their lack of knowledge is costing us, particularly now that the bill of rights isin effect. in claims.  Mandatory training of senior civil servants would go a long way to reducing this cost.

  33. Anonymous says:

    This is a great idea!!  Examinations for Civil Servant is a excellent way to ensure that they at least know the law and the rules they should be following,  We shouldn't have so many orders against in the Courts if the senior civil servants just knew the rules and followed them.  

  34. Anonymous says:

    Here here!!!!

  35. Anonymous says:

    The problem is not only the ethics of the persons appointed to the boards, the problem starts with how boards are appointed to begin with, they are political appointments at the whim of the politicians of the day. This needs to change, and objective criteria for selecting persons to certain boards be put in place and kept away from political interference. the system is flawed as it stands and will never change as long as these are political appointments. Civil servants are intimidated by these political appointees.

    • Anonymous says:

      Political cronies in the civil service are like a cancer destroying public services from within.

  36. Anonymous says:

    As usual, I salute you Mr Duckpond.  Wish you werePremier, we'd soon be back on track.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Well said, all true….and long overdue!

    For far too long many of our top civil servants and board members have shown far too much incompetence, and lack of any meaningful accountability has occurred. 

    To add insult to injury, when the ethical ones have spoken up they have been silenced with dismissal. Or retirement….often with significant pay outs from the public purse.

    This waste and lack of meaningful accountability has, and continues to, cost Cayman very dearly….financially, professionally….reputationally.

    It needs to stop if we are to move forward!And the proposals in this viewpoint are sorely needed to be implimented ASAP!

  38. Anonymous says:

    In the old days it was sufficient for people working on turtling schooners to learn on the job without any paper qualifications. In those days it was probably OK for our few government employees to move up the ladder the sameway.

    Those days are gone. Ships have increased in size and complexity just like our civil service has. The Caymanians who in more recent times qualified to handle super tankers and other large ships were few, but those that were in command passed tough exams to show they were competent and nobody doubted that they were world class at what they did. So it should be with the top levels in the government.

    It is time to modernize. We can't afford to have people promoted because of some politician or because they managed to stay above ground longer than others.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Neither Cayman nor the Turks and Caicos Islands has put in place the civil service quality controls that were adoped in Hong Kong. Very true and we are now reaping the results of that omission. Hopefully the Governor will speak to Mr. Manderson about finally putting quality controls into place.

    • Anonymous says:

      In TCI nothing happened to the civil servants who went along with the politicians. Seems like a pattern when there is no system of quality control for civil service appointments and no backbone at the top  to require people to follow the rules.

  40. Anonymous says:

    The Civil Service is supposed to be under the control of the governor but the reality is that Mr. Manderson has to work with the politicians. I question whether enough of those who we elect this month will want competent civil servants who know the law.

    • Anonymous says:

      "…competent civil servants who know the law…."


      Yes, we need competent civil servants who know the law.


      And they need one more thing, the guts to stand up to politicians who are corrupt and ignorant bullies.


      Thankfully, the time is coming and Franz appears to be a big part of the solution.


      My hat is also off to the FOI commissioner and the auditor general. They are leading the charge in the fight for accountability.

      • Anonymous says:

        Franz ought to be part of the solution. It remains to be seen whether he will actually enforce the rules that are already on the books or whether he will fall victim to 'turning a blind eye' disease.

      • Anonymous says:

        I agree that the FOI Commissioner's office and the Auditor General's department are doing a fantastic job.

        Franz has been there since Donnie left – more than 3 years. So far I have not seen much to be optimistic about there. Mandatory courses for board members will only achieve something if there is some proof that the people took on board the fact that they have to follow the law. Franz need to do the same with the government employees. He also need to have a zero tolerance for government employees that do anything outside the law.

  41. Anonymous says:

    All the money wasted on luxury travel and cronies over the past few years was signed for by senior civil servants. Guess that kind of proves part of the point Mr. Aristophanes is making. The question I have is whether they signed not knowing it was wrong or not caring it was wrong? Examinations will fix the first option but people getting fired is the only thing that will fix the second.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Some of those politically appointed ciwil serwants are going to fight this idea to the last breath. If they have their way accountability and competence tests not coming easily or soon.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Another excellent Viewpoint. There is going to be resistance from some politicians to the idea that they might be limited in paying back contributors by means of positions at the government cash trough. Still, these are excellent ideas and I hope that Mr. Manderson takes note and follows through.