Room at the top: Vacancies at Customs and Immigration

The departure of Samantha Bennett from the chief post at Cayman Islands Customs, coupled with the suspension of Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans, means that Cayman is currently without stable leadership in two of the country’s major revenue-generating departments.

Further — with the candidate search beginning anew for a new customs collector, and the circumstances of Ms. Evans’s paid suspension darkened by unspecified “allegations of misconduct” — there is no indication of when these important leadership positions will be filled.

Such high-level vacancies demand immediate attention from Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, Premier Alden McLaughlin (who has ministerial responsibility for Immigration) and Finance Minister Marco Archer (who is responsible for Customs).

Cayman needs to appoint sure and capable professionals to head up Customs and Immigration, whose combined annual budgets run in the tens of millions of dollars, and revenues collected in the hundreds of millions.

From a public safety standpoint, Customs and Immigration are charged with ensuring that dangerous items and people are kept off our shores. In addition to being our first line of defense against what Cayman doesn’t want, they also are often our first public representatives to interact with what Cayman does want, and indeed requires — travelers from overseas.

From an economic standpoint, Customs and Immigration are also key to facilitating the conduct of business in Cayman. After all, they serve as gatekeepers of the material and human capital that businesses need in order to operate.

Not having a permanent leader of Customs or Immigration is on the same level of seriousness as not having a commissioner of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

And yet, nearly three years after the retirement of Customs Collector Carlon Powery, the government is no closer to hiring a permanent replacement.

Ms. Bennett, of course — and here’s a brief foray into bureaucratese — was on “secondment” from the Immigration Department to fill in as “acting customs collector.” Now that she is moving back to Immigration, she is being replaced by Collie Powery, whose recent job progression at Customs has been “acting,” “deputy” and now “acting” again. (It’s enough to make one want to get in the business of printing government business cards.)

Government’s latest re-advertisement of the customs collector job will constitute its sixth attempt to fill the position, which carries a salary somewhere north of $100,000 per year.

It behooves the government to ensure that this sixth time is the charm, and that it is able to attract, identify and hire the best possible applicant for the position of customs collector — from within the department or without, from within Cayman or without.

In regard to Immigration, the allegations against Ms. Evans must be dealt with as swiftly, thoroughly and transparently as possible. She, and we (meaning the Cayman public), deserve nothing less. She has now been on suspension for more than a month (at full salary), yet the public has heard nothing more about the case since the information was first announced by government in early December.

However the situation involving Ms. Evans is resolved, the government must make one of their primary resolutions in this New Year to prevent Cayman’s Customs and Immigration departments from remaining leaderless for long.

The vacancies of Customs and Immigration are problems that demand — not a continuing series of “interim” this and “acting” that — but swift and decisive action.

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  1. The positions at both Immigration and Customs are positions which the government will need to exercise much caution in appointments, because they are both revolving doors to our country.
    Although Ms. Samantha Bennett was doing an excellent job at the Customs, I am positive she will do an even better job at the immigration. She is honest and fair, and do look out for the best interest of the country. Hope to see her in leadership one of these days.

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