Big bucks for benched workers

Nearly five years after being removed from their high-ranking government posts for no stated reason, two Cayman Islands government employees have reached a settlement with their employer that is likely to cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

The precise terms of the payout to former Health Ministry Chief Officer Diane Montoya and former Deputy Financial Secretary Deborah Drummond, who have been on required leave since 2009 and have been receiving full pay since then, were not revealed in a statement from the deputy governor’s office.

“The financial terms of the settlement reflect government’s legal obligation to compensate the officers for the loss of salary between their early retirement date and their normal retirement date upon their attaining age 60,” according to a statement from Deputy Governor Franz Manderson’s office. “A sum will also be paid as a contribution toward their joint legal fees.”

Under the agreement, some of the terms of which were provided to the Cayman Compass Tuesday, Ms. Montoya and Ms. Dummond will take early retirement from the civil service, effective July 1. That means they will no longer be on required leave status with the government, being paid while on suspension from their jobs as has happened over past several years.

The amounts paid to the two civil service officers as part of the “amicable” settlement were not stated. Both women were in their 40s when they were placed on leave in 2009.

In January 2010, the Compass revealed that three high-ranking members of the civil service who held chief officer positions under the former People’s Progressives Movement government were placed on required leave following the election of the then-United Democratic Party government. Former Education Ministry chief officer Angela Martins, Ms. Montoya and Ms. Drummond continued to receive pay at Grade C level – between $127,000 and $148,000 per year. Ms. Martins retired in 2011, but the other two civil servants continued to receive payment while on required leave from their government employment.

For the two former chief officers who have remained on required leave since 2009, their payments would be around $1.25 million in salary and pensions using the lower end of the salary scale, between 2009 and this year.

If they both continue to receive salary and pension allotments at that rate for the next five years, again using the lower end of the pay scale as an example, it would cost the government another $1.4 million. If they receive pay for longer than that, the amount would obviously go up.

Mr. Manderson clarified that the two women are entirely blameless in the situation that was created when they were removed from their posts.

“At no time has any allegation of wrongdoing been made against the officers, despite their having been put on required leave dating back to 2009,” Mr. Manderson said. “In the face of this difficult situation, the officers have conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism and have, throughout the arduous process, demonstrated respect for the offices they held and the people and government they have collectively served for more than 60 years.”

Local attorney Graham Hampson, who represented the two officers, said his clients are “entitled to personal privacy in relation to the details of the resolution of the matter.”

The positions once held by Ms. Drummond and Ms. Montoya were filled by other staffers: Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn in the Health Ministry, Chief Officer Mary Rodrigues in the Education Ministry, and Sonia McLaughlin as deputy financial secretary. Ms. McLaughlin’s retirement was announced earlier in the year.

The required leave period was given for unspecified reasons. According to then-Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks, the three chief officers had done nothing wrong and were merely awaiting a decision of the deputy governor to place them in new roles in the civil service. That never happened.

Mr. Manderson said in March, when asked about the situation with the two civil servants, that such a blunder with government employees could not and would not be allowed to happen again.

The deputy governor pointed out that there is a key difference between a ministerial reshuffle, which happens in the civil service after nearly every general election, and “sending people home.”

“I think [elected government ministers] have the right, and we as a civil service should do everything we can, to give ministers the opportunity to succeed. If that means doing a reshuffle, then fine,” Mr. Manderson said. “It doesn’t mean … sending people home. That’s not going to happen under my watch. We should be able to work where everyone is accommodated.”

According to the Public Service Management Law – the legislation that details how civil servants are hired and fired – the appointments of chief officers of ministries and portfolios can be terminated only on the basis of gross or serious misconduct, or significant inadequate performance over a reasonable period of time.

Chief officers can also be required to take early retirement on medical grounds, and can be forced to retire in certain circumstances by the head of the civil service “in order to improve the efficiency of the civil service entity.”

As with all Cayman Islands civil servants, any terminated workers have the right to sufficient notice and the ability to appeal those decisions.

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1 COMMENT

  1. SENDING PEOPLE HOME Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we ourselves we must deceive.
    Commenting on the above topic, one would wonder about the word Karma, and on another hand express that these are not the only Caymanians put on leave for no good reason. It is a down right shameful to know what was done to certain hardworking Caymanian citizens of this country.
    No remorse or sadness for taking bread from the table of poor Caymanians. However what every Caymanian should realize is that this is a very small Island and do not know that one day Karma may put it so that future generation children and grand children may unfortunately fall into the hands of these same people, their children or grand children. Memories don’t leave like people do, they always stay with you. So be kind to your own because what goes around comes around.

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