Role of “Moratorium Committee” revealed
A number of problems in hiring government workers, both in rank-and-file jobs and in leadership positions, were revealed during proceedings in the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee this week.
In one instance, the police commissioner stated that “hiring freeze” rules in the government had essentially prevented him from spending nearly $2 million this year to hire more Royal Cayman Islands Police Service officers.
In another matter, Premier Alden McLaughlin said he would not personally support hiring a non-Caymanian chief fire officer, despite the fact that the position has not been permanently filled for more than two years.
The government faces similar problems in other departments, including immigration, customs, the complaints commissioner’s office and the information commissioner’s office, among others, where all the leadership positions are filled by employees “acting” in those roles.
“It looks like we got Hollywood right here…everybody’s acting,” East End MLA Arden McLean said.
On Tuesday, RCIPS Commissioner David Baines stated that he had 487 jobs in the RCIPS, both civilian and police, representing the total positions provided in his department’s budget for the upcoming 2015/16 year. At present, RCIPS employs 450 people. It is unclear whether all of the vacant jobs will be filled because at various times in a budget year, the government will give directives for the “freezing” of job vacancies in order to save money.
“I will be in the region of $1.9 million underspent on my budget this year [referring to the 2014/15 budget year that ends in June], not because I didn’t want to spend it, but due to various bureaucratic procedures that prevent the quick advertisement and replacement of positions that become vacant by retiring or leaving staff,” Mr. Baines told the Cayman Compass. “The police and other agencies that have a significant expat workforce get disproportionately hit by this moratorium on appointments as it is the short-term contract[s] that are subjected to most churn and are most affected by freezes.”
Determining whether a job can be filled during a “hiring freeze” is left to an entity known as the Moratorium Committee, which the government has had in place since 2008.
According to Gloria McField-Nixon, chief officer of the Portfolio of the Civil Service, the “committee” consists of the deputy governor, who makes all final decisions, and a representative of the portfolio who serves to advise the deputy governor on the employment situation being considered.
Requests that must go before the committee include filling a new or currently vacant government post, the renewal of a non-Caymanian employee’s government contract or the contract arrangements for a Caymanian who has reached the mandatory retirement age of 60 but who the department wants to keep in that job.
The committee typically meets once a month to determine which jobs can be filled, but those meetings can be cancelled if Deputy Governor Franz Manderson is not present, thus putting off all hiring requests until the next meeting.
Mrs. McField-Nixon said the committee was formed in 2008 at a time when the civil service had to cut costs after noting “significant increases in our headcount.” Since the committee was formed, the number of employees in the central government service has declined from more than 3,800 to about 3,550.
“The [departments] decide who to hire, but the decision about incurring the expense [for the salary] goes through the moratorium process,” Mrs. McField-Nixon said.
The last time the Cayman Islands had a full-time, permanent fire chief was more than two years ago when Dennom Bodden retired.
Since then, various acting chiefs have been placed in that role, including Rosworth McLaughlin, Roy Grant and current chief fire officer John Bodden.
The government tried to hire a fulltime chief last year but was unable to do so following a recruitment process. A second hiring process under way is drawing to a close, Premier McLaughlin said Wednesday. Mr. McLaughlin’s Ministry of Home Affairs has responsibility for the fire service.
There have been what the government described as “rumors” in recent weeks that the ministry intended to hire a non-Caymanian to fill the role, following a damning report first revealed by the Cayman Compass earlier this year. The consultant’s report found, among other things, that various firefighting expertise and training opportunities did not exist in the fire service at present.
“I don’t know what the result of this process is going to be…but don’t ask me to endorse the appointment of a non-Caymanian chief fire officer because that I will not do,” Mr. McLaughlin said Wednesday, acknowledging that the elected ministers have ostensibly no role in civil service hiring.
“We have had a Caymanian chief fire officer since the establishment of the fire service in 1956. It would be a retrograde step of the highest magnitude for us, in 2015, to say that we have to recruit a chief fire officer who is not Caymanian.”
In addition to the fire service, the Immigration Department, Her Majesty’s Customs Service and two independent oversight bodies – the complaints commissioner and the information commissioners – are being led by acting department heads at the moment. Mr. McLaughlin said that while it is not the ideal situation, it won’t be corrected overnight.
“We have had what I regard as a most unfortunate practice in the public service for many years of having people acting, and acting, and acting, and acting in many, many posts,” he said. “That is largely the result, in my view, of a lack of succession planning. It is a matter that the deputy governor is keenly aware of. The deputy governor is taking the very best steps he can given the circumstances.”