Saturday, August 18, 2012

Our unbalanced budget, part two

When the tide goes out, you see who’s been swimming naked.

Warren Buffett’s wry observation about risk-taking investors applies equally to risk-taking money-managers in government. As the tide of easy money from taxes and loans recedes, the naked incompetence of politicians and senior Civil Servants becomes obvious.

Our local rulers are exposed now. Years of irresponsible management have left our government overspent, overborrowed, and with no cash reserves in the kitty. Nobody even knows how much it owes. Civil Service pensions aren’t included in the Public Debt, and no actuarial estimates are available to tell us within half a billion dollars what the total expense might be in respect of the pensions, lifetime healthcare benefits and airfares, etc, etc, etc. We’re never even told what all the perks of office are.

The workplace activities of Civil Servants are completely unmonitored. Is it a fact that two thirds of all Civil Servants manage private businesses from their offices? If it is, then the Service needs to be double-staffed just to get a few hours of official business done, during each “working” day.

Much of the government’s business is make-work tailored to the needs of our crony-corruption system. Bureaucratic empire-building is the norm. Waste and extravagance are the rule. Our current budget-problems are the result. The hundred-million-dollar Administration Palace on Elgin Avenue is half-empty, while acres of office space are rented from lucky, lucky, owners of buildings scattered throughout George Town. The new school out on Frank Sound Road will hold a thousand pupils, and seat a hundred of them.

What could we most comfortably do without, to balance the budget? Private-sector professionals could do the job of the Department of Tourism infinitely better than the government amateurs do it. Close it down. The Department of Finance was created as a state version of the Chamber of Commerce. Close it down. The Turtle Farm can’t even keep its live inventory alive, for goodness sake. Close it down. Pedro’s Castle and its sister “tourist attractions” would be unattractive to private investors, even for free. Close them down.

CINICO (the state health-insurer, a notorious white elephant) should transfer its clients to one or more of the private insurers, accompanied by generous subsidies. Any half-decent private-sector firm could arrange that in a week, though it might well take a Civil Service committee 52 times as long. The George Town Hospital is a hodge-podge that should be broken up immediately. Why does government own and manage Cayman’s biggest pharmacy? Sell it off.

The Immigration Monster should be stripped of its non-immigration functions, profitable though those are for its employees. Lease those functions out to private contractors. Scrap the post-slavery indentures-system and get rid of all the corrupt practices that infest it. Issue Work Permits to foreign workers instead of their employers.

Requiring the public sector to share the pain would bring balance to the Islands’ GDP (Gross Domestic Product), and stop the inexorable growth of the bloated parasite that is our government. Laws and practices that favour public-sector growth simply foster inefficiencies and corruption. To their shame, our politicians and senior Civil Servants refuse to even think of shrinking any aspect of government.

 Instead, they follow a path that leads to central control of our entire private sector. If the trend continues, there will come a day when every private company of any size has a government appointee among its directors. If – or, more likely, when – that situation comes to pass, Britain really will have a problem with this little territory. I wish the FCO’s clerks were aware of that danger; I don’t believe they are.