Embrace good work ethics

During the last few weeks the YCLA awards, the Youth Parliament and the Interschool Debate offered Cayman a glimpse of the achievements and potential of some of our future leaders.

It was truly heartwarming to hear about the accomplishments and community contributions of the YCLA finalist and to listen to the enthusiastic voices of the Youth Parliament and the Debating Teams as they delivered convincing, well researched presentations on topics of national interest. I congratulate the youth involved and commend everyone who organized and contributed to these very successful events.

In contrast to these encouraging reports, the debate over workplace discrimination raises concerns about the extent to which our youth will be encouraged, enabled and allowed to achieve their full potential. There are disturbing allegations that Caymanians are being discriminated against not only by expatriates but by Caymanian managers as well, and that capable police officers are being forced out of the service by one individual.

In addition, we have heard repeated accusations of political influence and victimization in the civil service.

The potential for discrimination against the Caymanian workforce was recognized decades ago and addressed by the enactment of protective legislation. Private sector employees are protected by the Work Permit Board (previously titled the Caymanian Protection Board) appointed under the Immigration Law, and more recently the Labour Law was introduced to regulate employment practices and protect against unfair dismissal et el.

Perhaps all that can be done in response to the current concerns is to strengthen the effectiveness of these two institutions. Discrimination is a threat to social harmony and must be taken seriously.

For public sector employees, Government introduced The Public Service Commission Law, under which the Public Service Commission was established. The Commission exists to protect civil service appointments, promotions, discipline etc, from nepotism, favouritism and victimization. The role of the Commission is not well understood.

For instance, contrary to a quote in the press on the subject of civil service reform, it does not have control over salaries.

Some readers might be surprised to hear that there is no political influence on the appointment of members of the Commission, and politicians have no say in appointments, promotions or discipline in the civil service. Any allegation of political victimization or patronage is, at the very least, a suggestion of weakness in the civil service administration.

The Commission is an advisory body – it could not be conferred with decision making powers because at this stage of Cayman’s Constitution there is no constitutional provision for the Governor to delegate his responsibility for the civil service. The Governor does not have to accept the Commission’s advice and a number of posts, including top civil service posts and the police service, are exempt from consideration by the Commission. It is interesting to note that most of the current accusations of victimization or political influence in the public sector relate to the police and top civil service.

Democratic countries recognize that a highly competent and politically impartial civil service is essential to good government, and to economic growth and prosperity. A corrupt, politically biased civil service will ruin its country’s social and economic development. Therefore, the traditional constitutional development agenda would provide for the civil service protection mechanisms to be strengthened and improved as more administrative responsibility is conferred on the elected representatives.

Consistent with this principle, pledges to protect the independence and political neutrality of our civil service is a common feature in local political statements. In addition, the UK White Paper on Partnership for Progress reaffirms UK’s commitment to ensuring good government and improving the impartiality of the public service. It also promotes respect for the rule of law and the constitution.

Surprisingly, in spite of to these assurances, there is no corresponding action to strengthen the widely accepted mechanisms for protecting the civil service.

Instead, the Governor’s responsibility for appointments etc. to the civil service has been delegated and further delegations are planned for July. The Commission is to be phased out and replaced by an Appeals Committee.

With these changes, one question that must be burning in the minds of the public and the civil service is the uncertainty about how the civil service will be insulated from political influence and protected from the same discrimination that is said to exist in the private sector. A secondary consideration is the cost to the tax payer of the alternative to the Commission.

I recall that the 2001 Constitutional Commissioners reported a finding of ‘overwhelming support’ for the Public Service Commission to be enshrined in the Constitution.

It does not seem reasonable that public opinion has changed so radically that instead of wishing to safeguard the Commission there would be majority support for its demise. I note that Constitutional talks will resume soon and agree wholeheartedly that there must be renewed public consultation prior to finalizing Constitutional modernization.

I am disappointed that the changes affecting the civil service were introduced in advance of Constitutional changes. The public has a right to expect to be consulted about this important constitutional issue with far reaching consequences for the future of the country. The potential for civil servants to be victims of discrimination and political influence is far greater today than it was when the Commission was first appointed.

I suggest that the role of Service Commissions in commonwealth parliamentary democracies and the alternatives for protecting the civil service would make an interesting subject for research and debate by our bright, public-spirited young people.

In the meantime I encourage Caymanians to continue to strive for excellence, embrace the traditional Caymanian work ethic (yes, the traditional Caymanian work ethic is worthy of being emulated) and have faith in the systems that are there to protect you.

Jenny Manderson