Hundreds of complaints reduced to a handful
However, Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams told participants in a professional development conference last week that while it took about 18 months to two years of consultation, things have turned around with immigration.
“It’s a success story,” the complaints commissioner told a roomful of government and private sector workers at the Westin resort.
The story dates to mid-2009, when Ms Williams took over as the territory’s ombudsman.
“At the time when this became an issue, the total number of complaints we had was 400, of which half were from immigration. Some of those were not bona fide complaints,” she said.
A number of the complaints regarded “relationships gone wrong,” in the complaints commissioner’s words.
“You had a wife thinking her husband is cheating with an expat woman and she wants [the woman] kicked off the island,” Ms Williams said, giving one example of a frivolous complaint. “We’re not here to sort your marriage out.”
Many of the complaints were serious, however, she said, ranging from a general level of nonresponsiveness to delays in work applications that were time sensitive and not being dealt with.
“There were a disproportionately high number [of complaints],” Ms Williams said. “It was just a mess.”
No public report regarding the situation was ever released by the complaints commissioner’s office. Instead, Ms Williams said, representatives of her office and three ranking immigration staffers – Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans and immigration assistant chiefs Samantha Bennett and Jeanie Lewis – held a series of meetings to sort matters out.
“We would meet every quarter, go over their complaints, go over their statistics,” she said. “We did that for about 18 months to two years and we ended up having a very good relationship. We helped them work their internal complaints process better, partly it’s responding more quickly, partly … it’s dealing with people in such a way that the complaints don’t even need to come with us.
“They have ended up being one of the most improved government entities [in relation to public complaints], and they are not too proud to take advice,” she said.
These days, the complaints commissioner’s office receives very few angry calls or walk-in visits regarding immigration matters.
“Immigration is such a key part of life in the Cayman Islands, it’s important to get this right,” Ms Williams said.
Having credible complaints processes in place at all government entites was a key goal of former Complaints Commissioner John Epp, Ms Williams said. By the end of Mr. Epp’s term in office, nearly all government organizations had such internal processes.
“The process of receiving and addressing complaints is a vital tool in learning how to better serve one’s clients,” a report written in 2008 by Mr. Epp stated. “In the absence, or dysfunction, of an internal complaints process the benefits to an organization could be lost.”