The cloud of criminal suspicion and alleged malfeasance enshrouding the Immigration Department is a real and reputational threat to the Cayman Islands. Public statements and paid suspensions are an insufficient response.
The recent arrest of three immigration employees in connection with a bribery investigation (with more, we’ve heard, to come) is a “bad news, good news, bad news” story.
The first bit of bad news, obviously, is that three immigration staffers have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in a scheme in which immigration officials would provide immigration-related services in exchange for bribes. As we have said before, in a country as small and insular as Cayman, our immigration policies define our collective destiny.
Our immigration processes, therefore, must be reasonable, efficient, transparent and, above all, untainted by corruption.
Because this government function is so important, we welcome the announcement by the Immigration Department leadership that the department has a “zero tolerance” approach to dealing with employee misconduct or unlawful behavior. We consider it good news when suspects are identified, arrested and removed from their positions of authority.
Which brings us back to the bad news.
Including the three recently arrested suspects, there are currently eight immigration staffers on required leave — suspended, with full pay. Perhaps more so than any accusations against individual employees, the government’s policy of suspending civil servants with full pay is damaging to the civil service as a whole and to its leader, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson (whom we hold in the highest regard).
To the taxpaying public, suspension with full pay appears to be — because it is — a demonstration of favoritism to civil servants as a class. It’s a “job perk” that would never be offered in the private sector. Even if it were, a further distinction must be made: Private sector salaries are paid with private sector dollars. Civil Service salaries are paid with your dollars, which should be viewed by government as precious.
These “paid vacations” are in direct opposition to Deputy Governor Manderson’s commitment to improve the civil service and its image. In practice, the policy runs contrary to the necessity for the swift adjudication of criminal and administrative matters.
Simply put (whether suspects are guilty or innocent), a person on paid suspension has little incentive to pursue an expeditious resolution of the matter. Here’s why:
1) Upon returning to the workplace, they may face disciplinary actions;
2) If terminated (rather than suspended), they certainly will lose their paycheck and benefits;
3) If convicted, they risk being fined or going to prison.
In those circumstances and with those choices, who wouldn’t “slow walk” the process?
The policy also is damaging to the public treasury. The paid suspensions can stretch on indefinitely, with costs accumulating by the day. For example, Chief Immigration Officer Evans — who faces no criminal allegations — has been on paid leave since December 2014 (more than two years!) while she awaits resolution of administrative accusations against her.
There are several possible alternatives to the deleterious policy of suspensions with full pay. For example, when confronted with an employee who has been arrested or otherwise accused of wrongdoing, a manager could place him or her on suspension with no pay (or half pay, or “low pay”). If the employee is eventually exonerated, then they could be entitled to restitution for all, or a portion of, their lost wages.
No matter the specifics, it seems clear to us that the following general rule should apply: When a civil servant stops going to work, their paycheck stops going to their bank account.