Land registrar hiring ‘fair’

Addressing a controversy over the hiring of a new registrar of lands, a human resources audit has found that the process used to recruit the new registrar for the Lands and Survey Department was fair and even “robust.”

While a requirement in the job posting that the successful applicant possess a degree-level law qualification “did deter at least one experienced Caymanian from applying for the position,” according to a report from Deputy Governor Franz Manderson’s office, the human resources audit stated that “such a requirement is appropriate for this position.”

“The recruitment process was fundamentally robust, well documented and in general compliance with the recruitment requirements of the Public Service Management Law,” the review found. The human resources audit made six recommendations – one of which was eventually withdrawn – to improve certain aspects of the government recruitment process, but none of the issues identified were considered significant enough to invalidate the recruitment process.

Deputy Governor Manderson, responding to findings in the human resources audit, said the replacement of a Caymanian registrar of lands by a non-Caymanian did show up some failings in civil service employee training and preparation.

“We must do a better job with succession planning,” Mr. Manderson said. “In August 2013, I instructed chief officers to ensure that there was a succession plan in place for all key posts in the civil service.

“I also accept that the move away from promoting civil servants based on tenure alone and focusing on raising the performance of the civil service by holding people accountable for their performance, by providing existing civil servants with opportunities to up-skill themselves and by promoting and recruiting highly qualified people in the civil service will cause some discontent amongst the civil service.”

Controversy erupted in October over the hiring of a successor to the outgoing registrar of lands, who had reached retirement age of 60.

Lawmakers in the Legislative Assembly accused the government of tailoring the hiring process for the position to a particular individual.

The issue was raised during a meeting of the assembly’s Finance Committee, for which government human resources auditors were unable to obtain transcripts. However, the Caymanian Compass monitored the meeting and wrote about legislators’ complaints in the newspaper.

North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, East End MLA Arden McLean and other lawmakers were told during the October committee meeting that the current post holder – a Caymanian – had reached retirement age and was replaced by an individual from Jamaica following a recruitment process that included 27 applicants.

One of the requirements for the post, which pays between $78,000 and $85,000 per year, was that the successful applicant hold a law degree. This had not been a requirement for the previous post-holder, although one previous registrar of lands did have a law certificate.

“It’s a bit unfair now to those who are aspiring to that position that you now impose that as a requirement,” Finance Minister Marco Archer said to Ministry of Planning Chief Officer Alan Jones during a finance committee hearing in October.

Mr. Jones explained that land law was becoming increasingly complex in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere in the world, and that the Lands and Survey Department had to keep up.

“The world does not stand still,” Mr. Jones said. “We are looking to introduce new electronic systems into the land registry, the world is changing in terms of legal complexity, we have to move with the times.”

Mr. McLean noted that the job was advertised only in Cayman and Jamaica, and accused the department of tailoring the job application to the person they wanted to hire. Mr. Jones denied that claim and said advertising in the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper, in addition to the local press, was considered good value for money.

Mr. Miller also noted that a Caymanian who applied for the position from within the Lands and Survey Department was not hired for the position. Mr. Jones said that a number of years ago, that person had been offered the chance to take law courses while he maintained the job, but he declined to do so. The opportunity was offered again recently, Mr. Jones said.

Questions about qualifications

During October’s Finance Committee debate, a number of issues involving civil service recruitment and the qualifications for certain positions were raised by lawmakers.

For instance, advertisements for a new customs collector included the requirement that the successful applicant hold a master’s degree in a relevant field.

Premier Alden McLaughlin pointed out that this was higher than the normal job requirements for government’s chief officers.

“We need to fill the substantive position of collector of customs and we need to do so as a matter of urgency,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “It is not necessary to insist the person who is appointed holds a master’s degree.”

The government has tried to replace retired Customs Collector Carlon Powery for nearly two years without success.

Seeking to fill the post with a Caymanian appointee, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush proposed a motion that would have made the customs department’s budget approval contingent upon hiring a full-time customs collector “from within these islands.”

Deputy Governor Manderson raised lawmakers’ ire with his response to Mr. Bush’s motion, when he was asked about it by another Finance Committee member.

“That motion infringes on the governor’s and my responsibility for the civil service in that we are now putting MLAs in a situation where they are now dictating the requirements, or dictating to me, who I should employ, and that cannot be right,” Mr. Manderson said.

According to the Cayman Islands Constitution Order 2009, the governor is the titular head of the civil service, but in practice the governor delegates that responsibility to the deputy governor [formerly the chief secretary]. Elected members of the Legislative Assembly control the budget for the government service and make funding allocations based on recommendations from civil service departments. Officially, they do not become involved in hiring individual civil service workers.

“When I know someone is not being treated right, I can’t support it,” Mr. Bush said in Finance Committee. “We can’t hire, but we don’t have to vote the funds to disenfranchise those hard-working individuals in the customs department or any department who can do the jobs if given the chance.”

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