OCC finds most complaints valid

A year-end review done by the Cayman Islands Office of the Complaints Commissioner shows half of the claims handled by that office so far have been well-founded.

That means inspectors discovered at least some basis in fact for complaints brought against Cayman Islands government agencies.

Complaints Commissioner John Epp, now nearly halfway through his first five-year term in the office, said he’s received triple the volume of complaints he expected.

Mr. Epp said it’s typical in Canadian ombudsman offices for 30 per cent of the complaints they receive to be well-founded.

While he admits it’s too early to determine the reason for the difference, Epp said analysis may show that issues of customer service have inflated the number of complaints that are well-founded.

‘It is no secret that some government entities could take steps to improve customer service,’ said OCC administrative officer Susan Duguay.

The OCC was created in July 2004 as a kind of government watchdog, designed to field and investigate resident complaints about government offices and agencies that receive public funding.

Mr. Epp said the office’s efforts have gone well beyond his expectations, but he said there’s still room for improvement.

One area of concern is the length of time it’s taking the OCC to finish what it calls own motion investigations. Those are cases initiated by the office itself, instead of through resident’s complaints.

Mr. Epp said he initially set a goal of four months to complete those types of cases, but the office hasn’t managed to meet that yet. He said part of the reason for the delays is the sheer number of resident complaints OCC receives; another may be government workers’ reluctance to cooperate with the office

‘Sometimes senior civil servants are challenging OCC jurisdiction,’ said Mr. Epp. ‘They have never had to answer to somebody outside of government.’

For example, the OCC first started reviewing the Immigration Department’s English-language test, which is administered to foreign workers, in May 2005. The complaints commissioner’s report was made public in March. A revised version of the test was put in place last month.

‘The entire time was on the outer edge of acceptable,’ said Mr. Epp.

The Cayman Islands OCC got a visit recently from Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin, who came here to help review operations and train staff with an eye to improving efficiency at the office.

Mr. Marin said a successful ombudsman’s operation comes down to a matter of ‘value for money’. He said offices like the complaints commissioner must determine what issues people in the community care most about, and spend their limited resources and staff there.

Mr. Marin also congratulated Cayman on creating the OCC, which he said functions as a true ombudsman, not simply a liability limiter for government. ‘They’ve decided to go the full distance and set a real one up,’ he said.