Police, immigration spanked by Ombudsman

Two government agencies charged with protecting Cayman’s people and borders are not doing a very good job of listening to those they serve, according to the complaints commissioner.

In the final series of reports drafted under the direction of former Complaints Commissioner John Epp, both the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and the Immigration Department were hit with findings of maladministration – corrupt or incompetent administration.

The Immigration Department was cited for maladministration in two separate instances by the commissioner; one of which included allegations that the department was not promptly returning fees it owed to Cayman Islands businesses.

Immigration and police were not the only two government agencies to be named and shamed by the complaints commissioner for not having a formal complaints process in place to assist the public.

The Department of Employment Relations, the Planning Department, the Ministry of Health and the Department of Tourism were also identified as not having an internal complaints process.

The complaints commissioner’s review – marking the third time a review of government agencies’ internal complaints procedures has been undertaken in the last four years – found that most government departments, statutory authorities and government companies did at least have an informal complaints process in place.

‘In the most serious cases, the OCC [office of the complaints commissioner] determined that a failure to establish an effective ICP [internal complaints process] amounted to maladministration,’ Mr. Epp stated in his report entitled: ‘Do government entities hear their customers?’

Mr. Epp has previously said that establishing processes to handle complaints was crucial to the success of government departments.

‘Businesses pay thousands of dollars for focus groups to hear what people think about programmes or initiatives,’ Mr. Epp said during an interview with the Caymanian Compass in 2007. ‘A wise manager … uses an internal complaints process as a research tool. If you have no organised … process, all of that valuable data is never collected.’

According to Mr. Epp, the police service said it had a formal complaints process and a professional standards unit to address citizen complaints, but admitted the system ‘did not function properly’.

Mr. Epp said the police service’s process for investigating complaints failed to maintain what his office considered reasonable timelines.

‘[RCIPS] admitted to needing to overhaul its internal complaints process and also recognised that its current process was not working well,’ Mr. Epp stated.

The creation of a citizen’s complaint board under the revised Police Bill (2008) was expected to help improve the police service’s complaints process.

An informal complaints process had been established at immigration offices, but Mr. Epp’s investigation found a troubling set of circumstances there.

‘The Immigration Department frontline officers were found to be blocking persons from filing complaints,’ Mr. Epp stated. ‘The immigration process also failed to meet reasonable timelines.’

Both the Ministry of Health and the Department of Tourism admitted to not having complaints processes, but committed to establishing them as quickly as possible.

The Planning Department was not able to provide the complaints commissioner with clear information about who handled complaints. The Department of Employment Relations at one time had a formal complaints process but scrapped it and never replaced it with a new one.

Expat fees

The processing of what are known as ‘repatriation fees’ also came under the complaints commissioner’s microscope following a written complaint by a company that claimed it took the Immigration Department more than five months to refund a CI$2,000 deposit.

The fees are paid by all companies who bring in expatriate workers. A deposit is put down by the company in case the foreign worker is unable to afford their own return trip home after their work permit or contract is ended.

If the repatriation fee is not required, it is refunded to the company that paid it.

Mr. Epp’s office found that in a sampling of refund cases, only about a quarter were handled and processed within 30 days. The slowest refund had taken 72 days.

The company that filed the initial complaint about the refund was forced to wait from 13 June, 2007 to 15 November, 2007 before getting its CI$2,000 deposit back.

‘In essence, the OCC found that it was unacceptable that such a state of affairs had been allowed to exist,’ Mr. Epp stated in his report.

Former Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson did not respond to the comments made in the complaints commissioner’s report.

Immigration officials working in the finance section of the department said the fee refund process was slowed by a computer system that was not specifically designed for such a purpose. They also cited the department’s working conditions and workload in general as reasons why fee processing was slowed.

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