Mr. Manderson: Fire away

“Civil servants who consistently provide poor customer service will be required to separate from the Civil Service. Otherwise, such persons by association harm the reputation of the majority of staff who do exceptional work and they harm the public’s confidence in the Civil Service overall.”

— Cayman Islands Deputy Governor Franz Manderson

The no-nonsense tone of the deputy governor’s recent circular — wherein he put Cayman’s civil servants on notice that being rude, unresponsive or worse to members of the public can lead to dismissal — is a welcome development, worthy of applause.

That being said, we (and, most likely, many in the civil service) will believe the content of the memo only after someone is actually fired. The deputy governor’s written warning is a good first step, but one that is meaningless if he doesn’t take the second step.

An online Cayman Compass poll, published Jan. 30 and cited in Mr. Manderson’s memo, engendered an overwhelming — and overwhelmingly negative — reaction from respondents wishing to weigh in on the quality of government’s customer service. As one commenter pithily put it, “Answer your d%&# phones!”

Another was more elaborative: “Too often I have been ignored after a long wait in line for service. It seems chatting to colleagues, doing nails, checking the iPhone are all more important [than] what they are paid to do.”

If the deputy governor is seeking out suitable candidates to “separate,” the biggest challenge might be choosing where, amid a target-rich environment, to start his search. Our suggestion, based on the degree of importance of the agency and the magnitude of its sins, is that Mr. Manderson consider beginning with his old haunt across the street, the Immigration Department, which he led from 2004-2009.

More than perhaps any other public entity, Immigration serves as government’s primary point of contact with many thousands of Cayman residents, over whose lives the department regularly exercises a direct, practical and controlling influence.

As evidenced by statements delivered during the trial of former Work Permit Board secretary Tichina Rickfield (formerly known as Sunshine McLaughlin), who was acquitted by a jury of all charges against her of deliberately altering board documents, Cayman’s Immigration Department is government’s perfect storm of bureaucracy, bullying, backlogs and backbiting. Indeed, it seems the only fate worse than being forced to work with Immigration is working for Immigration.

A cavalcade of witnesses — including Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans (herself on “paid leave” following allegations of official wrongdoing), board director Sherryl Miller, former board chair Lemuel Hurlston, former board chair Sharon Roulstone and Mr. Manderson himself — painted a picture of absolute dysfunction within Immigration, teeming with piles of unfinished paperwork and cadres of vendetta-pursuing colleagues, amounting to, in brief, a toxic workplace. (One that, we’ll note, cannot be attributed to the poisonous influence of outsiders, considering that 100 percent of Immigration employees are Caymanian.)

As a result of the pandemonium reigning within Immigration, Ms. Rickfield, who according to most accounts was a diligent and respected worker, suffered for five years under clouds of suspicion, during which time she was on suspension yet continued to draw her full salary from the public treasury.

Ms. Rickfield’s expensive ordeal raises additional serious questions about the conduct of Immigration officials (who did not provide police with documents that supported Ms. Rickfield’s position until after her defense team requested them), the decision-making ability of Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards (for whom this failure to secure a conviction represents another squandering of public resources and time) and the snail’s pace of Cayman’s judicial system in general.

But as far as Mr. Manderson’s caveat on customer service is immediately concerned, we propose that he procure a directory of Immigration employees, pick up his telephone and start dialing, until he reaches someone who picks up the handset, mutters something semi-intelligible, and slams it back on the cradle. Then the deputy governor should clap on his coat and hat (it’s breezy outside), walk the few hundred yards from the Government Administration Building to the Immigration office, and demonstrate his ability to do what must be done.

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  1. It would be very interesting to see the fallout from the suggestion made in the final paragraph.

    Have you forgotten that Mr Manderson was CIO for five years and prior to that he had been Deputy CIO for eight years?

    Have you also forgotten just how bad the service provided by Immigration was during that time?

    There isn’t room here to even start listing the problems but if you believed the staff thousands of documents mysteriously went missing every year. I can remember them losing no less than three blood test reports for one application. In 2007 two complete TWP applications disappeared despite the fact that both had been handed in personally by the prospective employer. I can also remember at least two people being arrested during 2007/8 for alleged immigration offences that were actually paperwork foul ups by the officers dealing with their WP applications. In every one of these cases there was more than a hint that this apparent inefficiency was actually deliberate.

    So what happens if Mr Manderson now goes storming back into his old department sacking people he used to work with for doing exactly what they’ve been doing for the past 10 years or more?

    It’s very simple, CIG will get sued and the whole thing will turn into a massive blame game through the courts. Get real here – this is not going to happen.

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  2. I am not commenting on your editorial as a whole, but on just one line contained therein. I quote: (One that, we’ll note, cannot be attributed to the poisonous influence of outsiders, considering that 100% of immigration employees are outsiders.)

    It is really unbecoming for our one daily newspaper that should be a harmonizing force to lower itself so frequently to join in the us-against-them mentality, especially when it is done is so sarcastic a tone.

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  3. How interesting. Should someone in civil service actually get fired would be like man walking on the moon HISTORY in the making. Though I very much hope Franz means what he say’s I’ll believe it when I see it. Too long have some of the bad apples in the civil service ruined the entire barrel. But we must prepare ourselves for Government pink-slips because they usually are passed out with more deceiving words like early retirement along with a hefty retirement package and pension and possible transferal to a new department. In my school days I’d often get the temporary pink-slip, expelled for a week or two for causing mischiefand I enjoyed every moment of my compulsory school break.

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  4. There is no way to justify the termination of the people on the front line without also removing the management and leadership that is largely responsible for creating the environments that foster and promote bad customer service.

    The reality here is that the senior and executive management structures within the CIG are largely made up of incompetent and ineffective leadership. Taking a more critical look at the senior and executive management structures and making the necessary changes at that those levels would make everything downstream work more effectively and would have a major positive impact on the overall customer experience. Additionally, as I have said before, if we continue to engage the services of companies like Deloitte to tell the government what they should and should not be doing then we do not need to have such large senior and executive management structures with the CIG.

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  5. Leave the front line alone.

    You have picked immigration which is the easiest target and I don’t like it. As a small business person I have had more than my fair share of visits to the immigration counters. Often twice a month over the last 8 years. I would be curious how often the editorial staff go in for a visit. The people on the front line are under constant bombardment, and they… are just doing their jobs as they have been trained to, and scheduled to.

    Are their issues there? Gotta be. Have I been disappointed in the out come of a visit? Ah… Yes. But I have never been treated in any way that could have been considered rude or negligent. Have I waited a long time for my number to be called? Ah.. Yes. Have things been handled quickly when i do get to the front? Very rarely have I waited an unusual amount of time when i got to the window.

    If there is a breakdown, oh and there are breakdowns I am sure, it is far from the public eye.

    None of the front counter line have a phone so don’t be blaming them for bad service and not picking up, and next time you are in there in the afternoon and your number is A101, the receptionist has already answered the questions of 100 people.

    In fact all my dealing with front line staff have been positive in the agencies i visit regularly. Especially the Port Authority and the Port Warehouse. Fast, pleasant, and efficient. Even the BRUTAL service you get at the Customs office has nothing to do with the front line staff. The new system, well… It just does not work. Go have a word with the folks who came up with it and tossed it to the front line to sort through.

    Service is more than just taking care of the customer. You need to take care of the people that take care of the customer. Give them the tools and the training to do the job.

    There are dozens of departments that you can test the how many rings, how many days to return an email, message theory. I am sure you will be disappointed. Just leave the front line of the immigration department out of it.

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  6. I tend to agree that there is a fair or worse level of piling on going on here. We always need to improve, but we should not be branding everyone with the same tar that only a few may deserve. Take the Pharmacy at the hospital, for instance. We hear an awful lot of unfair criticisms about that service. Yes, they have had some ups and downs in trying to work out systems in a difficult area, where they have to balance efficiency and patient safety.

    When I go to other pharmacies that don’t have the volume that the Hospital Pharmacy has to deal with, I have to wait, sometimes just as long, or even longer.

    But I don’t really mind waiting for medication as I don’t want to get the wrong medication that might kill me.

    Services like immigration’s are coping with huge volumes, and many times with antiquated computer systems that take forever to spit out information and paperwork.

    When I go into immigration, nevertheless, I don’t see the type of behaviours being described here. They really are trying to respond and to help people as quickly as they can.

    Civil servants have become the punching bags of media, who have little understanding of the exigencies that they are balancing and the constraints that they have to deal with on a daily basis — lack of proper resources, staffing, support for ideas that really work — or, conversely, having to implement strategies and tactics that they know will not work at all.

    And let’s us not pile on on senior managers either. No where else do we have more pressures in and from all directions than at those levels. (This editorial is an example). The other day I saw the Post Master General excoriated in a most unfair way.

    You know the old Indian saying — let us not criticise someone until we have walked a mile In their moccasins.

    We need to keep people on their toes, but let us really be sure we can support charges with facts before we run them through the gauntlet of public humiliation.

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  7. @ Paul Storey

    In fairness to Immigration my comments posted here relate to historical problems and you are correct in stating that the service has improved in recent years. But isn’t there a message in that? Change of leadership, change of attitude?

    @ Patricia Ebanks

    I’m a former civil servant and even by UK standards CIG has some pretty serious issues regards staff conduct and their attitude to the public – your excuses don’t cut it here.

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  8. To david Williams: you are under a misapprehension that I am trying to find excuses — I genuinely believe as does the DG that the majority of civil servants are hard working, conscientious employees.

    I was just saying that in many of the cases that we complain about — that makes it appear that a majority is failing — there are workplace constraints with which they must work of which many times the public is unaware.

    I cannot comment on the UK civil service, about which you appear so knowledgeable — as you are about the Cayman civil service. I congratulate you on your great cross-cultural knowledge and perceptiveness. I am sure, however, that civil services globally share some of the same constraints.

    I must also add that daily the public comes up against lack of responsiveness and poor service in the private sector, but while we complain, it does not seem to get the same attention as the public services’s. It seems that as long as business is looking after the bottom line, that is all that matters. They, too, however, labour under some of the same resource and environmental dispositions.

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  9. Whilst I agree that improvements need to be made to Customer Service and other areas of the civil service, I don’t think firing workers will help Cayman’s situation.

    Where will these newly unemployed citizens go? There are two options – either apply to another government department/ agency, or join the queue at the NWDA, pressuring private corporations to hire them. Either way, Cayman will not benefit.

    As head of the civil service, I would expect a more strategic approach from Mr. Manderson…such as mandatory re-training and even performance-based remuneration…before Draconian measures such as ‘separation’ are considered. One would hope that the objective is to keep your own people employed, whilst providing the best service to the public.

    However, looking-on as an outsider myself (non-Caymanian), the problem is deeply embedded and intertwined with the entitlement mentality of locals on a whole. The issue of bad service/ performance is not unique to the civil service alone, as it permeates the operations of many private businesses, hence the need for expatriates. Don’t fire public servants…re-socialize them.

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  10. Anybody who needs a Work Permit – or will ever again need a Work Permit – had better be writing a sucky-up letter in this comment section. The Immigration Department doesn’t believe there is any virtue in freedom of speech, you know!

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  11. @ Patricia Ebanks

    Sadly, the old private sector – v – public sector argument doesn’t hold water because in general, as customers, we have a choice. If a private sector organisation falls short of acceptable standards we go somewhere else. In the end market forces take over and the company concerned either delivers the goods or goes under. The only time this rule seems to fail is when the private companies are either state-sponsored monopolies or, based on several recent examples, entities involved in questionable contracts with CIG. In both of these cases the fault for their shortcomings still lies mostly with the public sector for lack of proper oversight. Bottom line is that, with the aforementioned exceptions, workers in the private sector have to earn their wages whereas most public sector salary funding is guaranteed by law.

    That lack of any real performance incentive, coupled with a disturbing lack of accountability, is often the core problem with staff in public service.

    If you’d ever worked in a competitive industry you’d be viewing what’s currently going on at CIG with disbelief. This isn’t just about the direct cost of the civil service but the hidden costs caused by damage being caused to the image of the Cayman Islands. In the end an inefficient public sector, which I’ve seen at work first-hand in the UK, impacts on the local economy by discouraging investment – that harms everybody so defending it regardless isn’t a realistic option. On the other hand an efficient and transparent public sector, which I’ve also seen, attracts investment and opportunity but that’s not what we have in the Cayman Islands.

    I’m not comfortable with the idea of a senior civil servant charging round firing people but something has to be done because public sector employees not pulling their weight are threatening both their own futures and potentially those of generations to come. Whether you like it or not the economy of the Cayman Islands is based on very fragile foundations. It wouldn’t take much of a push to topple it so staff on the public payroll not only need to realise this but also wake up to the fact that a job in the civil service isn’t a free ride.

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  12. I had not planned to add anything further, so this will be my last posting on this subject.

    The truth is that most of us in Cayman do not have a choice — other than hopping on a plane to Miami, which is done but which does not satisfy all our needs, obviously. And we often don’t switch from one company to the other because we know that we would be simply exchanging one set of problems for the other, if not jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

    We also do understand that when we have to wait three days for a private sector technician or sit for hours for a customer service that otherwise it would hit us in the wallet and Lord knows we can’t pay more! We know we live under the constraints of low volume and limited resources, the price of living in a lovely but small island.

    We are not so generous, however, when it comes to government — we think there is unlimited resources. Unfortunately, it ain’t so, as we all know only too well in these difficult economic times.

    So, a lot of the theory that applies elsewhere does not really work well in our small but in many respects first world country with elevated expectations.

    This is not to say we should not become more introspective and strive to improve. The Civil Service of these islands played a role in building a first class financial centre, with a reputation for less red tape and greater efficiency than many other bigger countries. We need to continue to offer than first class service, and to understand that every contact is a brand contact.

    Otherwise, we can allow a few who are failing the brand to feed into serious reputational damage. It is said that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and a minute to lose it.

    At the same time, we are not the US and not the UK. And thank God — check out their bureaucratic quagmires. We are small islands in which both the public and private sectors have some of the same limitations. But small does have its advantages in the efficiency formula and we have much we can capitalize on.

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  13. @Forest Anda ,it really is a shame that while mentioning the entitlement mentality of some Caymanians,you failed to mention the entitlement mentality of some expats.You know the ones that believe that they are entitled to a job just because of the country they are coming from,and that they are somehow superior because they come from places such as the UK,US,or Canada.The ones who come with nothing then marry some wealthy expat ,and suddenly they are entitled.So please when you are discussing entitlement in the future,don’t leave out these special people. @Gordon Barlow,why is it that along with the good and happy expats ,Cayman seems to attract some of the unhappiest.I would like to think that if some foreign place made me so unhappy ,I would leave as soon as possible.

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  14. If one employs over 4000 people as we the public do, it would be unreasonable to expect everyone to be an ideal employee however it has always seemed to me that the majority of civil servants hide behind their voicemail and their impervious complete lack of accountability to their clients..the public. I agree that it is not a problem confined to Cayman or even to Governments. Most large companies with a monopoly feel invincible especially to individual members of the public and It is incumbent upon the Managers and leaders of those organisations to change that mindset by example and by policy statements that have teeth in order to achieve the desired end. Dismissal is not the only option I would strongly recommend further training in customer relations and courtesy to your employers. Removal of voicemail from the entire Government service is my first recommendation then have a hot line for complaints to the Deputy Governor that the average citizen can access.

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