The dysfunction in the Department of Immigration is becoming unbearable, indeed intolerable. The “labor function” of the department, namely who gets work permits, how long the process takes, and how long the workers get to remain in their jobs is becoming an existential problem for the business community which — need we remind anyone — is the economic engine of these islands.
Almost inconceivably, the department has been operating without a permanent “CEO” since 2014. Bruce Smith has been serving as “acting” chief immigration officer for the last three years, since Linda Evans was suspended without explanation (but full pay and benefits). (What on Earth, other than perhaps building Camana Bay, takes three years?)
Also on leave (again with full pay and benefits) is Assistant Chief Immigration Officer Jeannie Lewis, while she faces court charges of violating, of all things, immigration laws.
Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Garfield “Gary” Wong has his own legal affairs to navigate, as his trial on charges of careless driving, leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence of alcohol continues to crawl its way through court. (The precipitating incident took place in December 2013.)
Then, earlier this week, Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers took the Immigration Department to task in not-so-subtle terms: “The department’s refusal to provide reasons for withholding the [documents requested] can only be described as willful, egregious and unlawful,” labeling the department’s nonperformance as a “blatant lack of respect for the laws of the Cayman Islands.”
May we ask a simple question: Who is in charge here?
On Wednesday, Premier Alden McLaughlin apparently had had enough. He appointed three new chairmen of three separate immigration boards, including the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board, replacing Mr. Waide DaCosta, who had been in his post for the previous eight years.
On Mr. DaCosta’s watch, more than 1,000 permanent residency applications, marinating over a period of more than three years, have gone unprocessed. A number of resulting lawsuits are currently before the courts.
(To be fair, Mr. DaCosta has been highly vocal behind the scenes about the lack of clear policy directives from the ministry — but virtually silent publicly. He should have been more forceful, and more vocal. He would have been wise to consider the adage, “If you’re going to be good at your job, you have to be willing to risk losing it.”)
We’re not sure whether to wish Mr. DaCosta’s successor, attorney John Meghoo, all the best in his new post or, frankly, our condolences. We’re firm believers in the principle that one should not accept the responsibility to fix a broken system without the authority to do what’s necessary.
Taking the broader view, the volume of work performed at the Immigration Department is as enormous as it is important. The department oversees everything from border control to visas, work permits, residency and status grants as well as passports for Caymanians wishing to travel overseas. Since January through July 2017, the department received 18,847 work permit applications and is struggling with 11 vacant positions in its administrative ranks. It’s no wonder the system is collapsing.
The newly minted government of these islands, under the leadership of Premier Alden McLaughlin, would be well advised (in the words of the late Steve Jobs of Apple) to “Think Different.”
A complete “rethink,” and likely revamp, of the entire immigration apparatus is in order — from management and staffing to policies and processes. “Musical chairs” at the board level is not nearly enough.
Perhaps more than in any other area, immigration reform presents an opportunity to reinvigorate the once-touted private sector/public sector partnership that engendered the social tranquility and economic success of these islands.