Customs collector position remains open

Although Cayman Islands Customs Collector Samantha Bennett has maintained a high profile in her position this year, the job of top customs official is apparently not hers on a permanent basis.

The local customs department has not hired a permanent replacement for Carlon Powery, who retired in May 2012 after 40 years of service, the Cayman Compass learned last week.

Ms. Bennett, according to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, is on secondment from her previous position with the Immigration Department and that status will remain until a recruiting process is completed later this year.

“We intend to advertise the collector of customs position within the next two weeks with the aim of having the position filled by Oct. 31, 2014,” said Anne Owens, the government’s senior assistant financial secretary.

The issuance of the latest job advertisement for the collector’s post marks the fifth time since Mr. Powery retired that Cayman has attempted to fill the position.

The fourth round of advertisements, sent out in late 2013, sought to hire someone for the collector’s job, with an annual salary between $105,00 and $126,000. Three previous attempts to hire a new head of customs failed when government rejected all of the applicants.

Ms. Owens said at the time that the reason for not filling the customs collector position was that no applicant met all the requirements for the position.

The collector of customs – a critical position in the Cayman Islands government – acts not only as revenue collector from imported goods but also as the person who prevents the illegal movement of items into and out of the islands.

The position as advertised previously required a master’s degree in management or business – higher than requirements for most government chief officer posts. The position also seeks someone with at least seven years of management experience and “expert knowledge of the international trade process and the Cayman Islands law relating to customs.”

The job posting also seeks broad knowledge of the government and the Customs Department, acquired “ideally through existing experience,” presumably an attempt to weight the job application in favor of local candidates.

These job requirements drew the ire of some members of the Legislative Assembly in October and led to a verbal sparring match between Mr. Manderson and Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush over the collector’s recruitment process.

During proceedings in the Legislative Assembly’s finance committee, Mr. Bush sought to fill the post with a Caymanian appointee and 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.”

“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. 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. “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.”

Mr. Bush’s motion was defeated in a divided vote of the House that included several abstentions by members.

The customs collector’s position is not the only public safety-related leadership post the government is having difficulty filling.

Alleged attempts to “retire” acting chief fire officer Rosworth McLaughlin may land the government in court, after Mr. McLaughlin filed a writ seeking judicial review of what he said was his forced retirement in April.

Government officials have responded that Mr. McLaughlin is still being paid while a “settlement package” is negotiated for him. They indicated that a complaint the senior fire officer made to the Civil Service Appeals Commission could not properly be heard because Mr. McLaughlin had never been retired. It had not been decided by press time whether the court would accept Mr. McLaughlin’s application for judicial review.