Behind-the-scenes blow up at port authority
Employment troubles bubbling beneath the surface for some time at the Cayman Islands Port Authority spilled over this month as correspondence revealed sniping between unnamed staff members and the appointed board that runs the statutory authority.
According to a Feb. 11 letter obtained by the Cayman Compass and signed only by “staff,” a number of concerns were raised about a consultant review being conducted at the authority by a private accountancy firm, giving a clear indication that whoever penned the missive believed efforts to remove current port staff members were already under way.
Port board chairman Errol Bush confirmed board members had received the correspondence at a recent meeting.
So far, only former Port Authority Managing Director Paul Hurlston has been removed from his post. Mr. Hurlston was placed on “gardening leave” three months before the end of his contract in May – meaning he will continue to receive salary and benefits but will no longer report to work.
According to the Feb. 11 staff letter: “It would appear that the board … has already, and perhaps for some length of time, identified substantial ‘inefficiencies, risks and weaknesses’ in the current daily operations of the port, and has already determined, prior to the inception of your proposed Deloitte review that these deficiencies exist mainly due to ‘the current organizational structure.’
“There are a number of other departments, authorities, etc., amongst the branches of government that arguably and demonstrably are in more need of serious adjustments in the same areas that you have vaguely but persistently stated/hinted at in this and previous communications to us and the general public via the press.
“We are somewhat perturbed, puzzled and perplexed by the board’s seemingly guarded hostility towards our establishment … and in particular it seems, towards the sitting management.”
Port chairman Mr. Bush told the Cayman Compass in December that the authority had hired Deloitte via a tendering process to perform what he termed an “organizational review” at the authority, aimed at “getting us back on better financial footing.”
The port authority has reported significant financial losses in two consecutive fiscal years from which government auditors indicated it may not easily recover. In the 2012/2013 fiscal year, the public agency lost more than $2.6 million.
In a letter to port staff in November, board members indicated there was “no truth” to rumors that current staff would be required to reapply for their jobs and that no one now employed at the port would be guaranteed their position.
Mr. Bush indicated he was concerned that these “harmful rumors” were being perpetuated in a “malicious manner as to disrupt our entire organization.”
In a letter addressed to staff members on Feb. 4, board members indicated that current “challenges exist due to the current organizational structure.”
Mr. Bush clarified later that the Feb. 4 letter, which had been considered by board members, was never actually sent to staffers. However, the individual or individuals who wrote the Feb. 11 communication had clearly seen a copy of it.
Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick noted in his evaluation of the agency’s financial statements between 2011 and 2013 that the losses prompted significant concern about the port’s ability to continue operating.
“Given that the port authority has already increased fees in 2010, there is limited room for further maneuver on the revenue generation side, if the expected downward trajectory of cargo and cruise passenger volumes continues,” Mr. Swarbrick said. “The likely options include staff rationalization and direct government support to sustain operations.”