Deputy Governor Franz Manderson’s proposal to limit paid leave for government employees facing criminal investigations is a move in the right direction, but it also serves to illustrate the untenable situation faced by civil service management and highlights the fundamental differences between the public and private sector.

First, we must credit the deputy governor for his initiative in seeking to limit paid suspension, in cases of suspected criminal activity, to a maximum of 12 months. It would be an improvement over the status quo, where civil servants can – and sometimes do – remain on paid leave for years while their cases wend their way through the Cayman Islands court system … an already lengthy process that can be drawn out even further when defendants have a financial incentive to embrace delays, adjournments and reschedulings, and to shun swift adjudication. For most people, “paid vacation” is a perk rather than a punitive measure. (Cayman Compass political cartoonists have had a field day with this issue – and rightly so – over the years.)

Although the deputy governor is head of the civil service, just his saying he wants to enact this new policy does not make it so. The proposal must be submitted to Cabinet members, who will then determine whether or not to make the appropriate amendments to the government’s personnel regulations.

As an appointed official answering directly to the U.K.-appointed governor, the deputy governor is in an ideal position to make tough decisions about the management of civil servants because he is somewhat insulated from the considerable political pressure that can be brought by the civil service as a body. However, the elected members of Cabinet, who are charged with making the final decision on this issue, are not impervious to the influence of what is the country’s single largest voting bloc.

Already, you can see the precariousness of the position occupied by Mr. Manderson, his top officials and lawmakers when they are considering instituting even relatively minor, common sense measures that would restrict some benefit or privilege heretofore enjoyed by the civil service.

At a more elementary level, the particular problem of “paid leave” in Cayman’s civil service is the presence of the assumption that government ought to be paying someone who has been deemed unsuitable to continue in active employment. As we’ve seen in some fairly high-profile instances, some civil servants continue working while they are under criminal investigation, even when their cases have reached courtrooms.

The decision to place a civil servant on paid leave is not an obligation but a choice that is exercised when it is felt the allegations interfere with the civil servant’s ability to do his job. In other words, the civil servant has been deemed unfit to work, but fit to be paid.

Long-term paid suspension is not something that occurs in the private sector – certainly not for a year. Regardless of the “criminality” involved, if a private sector employee commits a fireable offense, the employer swiftly makes the call whether or not the employee is going to be fired – and then takes action.

The reason for this is simple: Two different sets of standards apply in the courtroom and in the workplace. In the first, the verdict is determined by a judge or jury, who have the power to levy fines and restrict freedoms; and in the second, by a manager, whose power is to issue warnings and, should circumstances require it, terminate errant employees forthwith.

Those standards have been erroneously conflated in the civil service, where – just as in the private sector – decisions on dismissals, suspensions or terminations ought to be treated as cases for human resources officials, not the courts or even Cabinet.

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