Deputy governor: Cayman must ‘think big’

Manderson says Bermuda situation reveals problems with hyper-local focus

When Cayman Islands Deputy Governor Franz Manderson served as chief immigration officer, he often stressed the need for improved customer service – even though he said the department did not really have any competition in the area of issuing work permits.  

Reflecting on that view during Wednesday’s professional development conference held at the Westin resort on Grand Cayman, Mr. Manderson admitted: “I was wrong.”  

“Yes, we should be providing the very best service to our customers,” the deputy governor told an audience of more than 100 gathered at the Westin. “But the Immigration Department has competitors. Not necessarily in Cayman, but in Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands.  

“If those countries can get better services, businesses may move there.”  

Too often in the past, Mr. Manderson said, the local government service operated with a kind of tunnel vision that ultimately has been detrimental to economic development in Cayman.  

“We cannot think the old way, that the customer will always come back to us,” he said.  

The flaws in that type of thinking, the deputy governor said, were exposed in recent media reports out of Bermuda, where the SAGE Commission evaluation put the Atlantic island’s local economy in dire straits.  

“There [are] a lot of lessons there,” Mr. Manderson said.  

For instance, the deputy governor noted that the Bermudian government went from a “very strict rollover policy” to issuing invitations to the chief executives of United States firms to visit Bermuda in hopes of stirring up investment interest.  

“They’ve gone from pushing people out the door to trying to pull people back in,” Mr. Manderson said. “We’ve got to learn from that, because it’s very difficult to get [business] back once it’s gone.”  

However, the deputy governor said it was his view that Cayman had learned some of the lessons contained in the SAGE Commission report early.  

Lesson number one: Reduce the national debt. The Cayman Islands government has paid more than $50 million in each of the last three budgets toward both interest and principal payments on public sector debt.  

“If you continue to spend unchecked, if you continue to borrow, you’re going to get yourself into these issues,” he said. “It’s staggering to see the debt [Bermuda] now have.”  

Bermuda’s national debt will top $1.8 billion by the end of the 2013/2014 financial year, according to the SAGE Commission report.  

Mr. Manderson also noted the commission report identified “strange” issues in the Bermuda government service’s structure. For instance, the Cabinet secretary in Bermuda is the head of the civil service. He said that creates inherent conflicts between the government’s elected and administrative arms.  

Mr. Manderson referred during his speech to a recent survey completed by the Cayman Islands civil service and some of the responses his office had received.  

About the Immigration Department, one response was: “It’s OK if you know someone in the department, but if that person is away…”  

Regarding another department: “I’ve been going to the same government department for 20 years and my name is still ‘next’.”  

Rather than bridle at the criticism, Mr. Manderson said government must take it to heart.  

“That’s what our customers are saying about the service we are providing and it has to change,” he said. “We have to take this criticism seriously.”  

Mr. Manderson said the civil service was continuing to work on its “digital by default” program, improving government’s IT strategy and putting more public services on line, particularly payment options. 

Also, the deputy governor’s office is reviewing local laws and procedures, in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce, to identify which areas are the most “irritating and bureaucratic.”  

Mr. Manderson said the idea was to create “predictability” in the decisions made by government.  

“If you do everything right, you should be able to predict with some type of certainty what your responses are going to be from government,” he said. 


  1. Mr Manderson, Yes you did get a jump start here in Cayman, efficiency in government, should not be a contradiction. Government like the private sector should drive to success, The private sector see profits as being their measuring stick, Our national reserves should be ours. And Civil servants, you are competing with the private sector. Our Electric company, you all lost that because of bad management, and meadequor service standards. And how many times have the private sector positioned themselves for a takeover of the water supply. As Oliver said, you all too wuttthless.. Everyone need to get over themselves with this cloak of I am government and what I say go. You are one of us and what we say go. If a desk audit has not already been done, I bet it soon come. What you doing, what you should be doing, and how well you doing it. The objective, debt reduction, and increase in our national reserves. I am just saying, the US government was able to bail out wall street, we cant even bail out a canoe. But, I have seen improvements, customer focused managers I see some. The appraisal system used constructively is the key. I am sorry I am not at my desk right now, please leave a message and I will never get back to you, is not a good moto..
    The Sage report is a hurricane warning we have little time to prepare for and the storm surge speaks of divestment. Just reflect on how government and the private sector each think of unemployment.
    Mr Manderson we still watching you work..

  2. If the US and Cuba ever kiss and make up, and it will happen, the Cayman Islands will have bigger issues than work permits to worry about. So when that attitude change comes about for immigration, change it for tourism as well.Cayman is not the only island in that boat either.

  3. I preface what I am about to say with the fact that I am just some expat and by no means a C-suite level executive making big decisions. I have lived in Bermuda and now reside in Cayman and the difference between the two islands is night and day. I’m not saying Cayman is without fault and should not continue to improve, but in terms of how expats are treated, Cayman does a far better job of being fair than Bermuda. In Bermuda they make it very clear that you are lucky enough that they even let you into the country. While I agree that living on either island is a privilege, Bermuda is much quicker to lose sight of the fact that the relationship between the islands and expats is symbiotic and not a one-way street. Simply put, there is no realistic way with such small populations, that either island could offer enough expertise to the companies residing within their borders without the help and knowledge of expats, and plenty of them. Some may disagree with me on this last point, but as a proxy, you could take the percent of lawyers, cpa’s, etc. in the US as compared to its entire population and use that to estimate the total number of locals on the islands you could reasonably expect to be employed at professional service firms, it would be pretty apparent that a large employment gap would remain. I do believe each country should have proper controls in place to be sure that they are getting quality people into their countries, just be sure that the process involved isn’t unnecessarily burdensome for the employee or employer.

    Finally, in regards to debt, part of the reason Bermuda is having the financial difficulty it faces now is because it has let tourism fall to the wayside it forgot that without tourism there are less jobs for its citizens, as not everyone is cut out to be a lawyer or CFO. Granted, it does not enjoy the climate we have here in Cayman, but Bermuda still looks at itself as a luxury vacation destination where people will pay over 400 a night for hotels and amenities that have been neglected for quite some time coupled with sub-par service. Bermuda’s pride is its downfall and Cayman would be wise look to their neighbors to the north as a warning of what can happen with complacency.

  4. As for the ten thousand lb gorilla asleep in the sun, please speak softly while we collect some fallen acorns. When he awakes, he eats everything. Can you say new, fresh, cheap, and eager to please.. Cayman with it’s abandoned piers hanging out, not pretty.

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