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.