‘Ritch report’ makes ministry poor

An immigration consultancy report, penned at a cost of $312,000 and kept from public view, put the government Ministry of Home Affairs over budget during the year it was commissioned, according to an evaluation done by Cayman’s auditor general.

The so-called Ritch Report, completed by the Ritch & Conolly law firm at the request of Premier Alden McLaughlin, is understood to have made a number of recommendations for addressing long-standing legal problems within the system used to grant non-Caymanians permanent residence.

According to auditors, the Ministry of Home Affairs was the only core government entity for which an audit had been completed that recorded an overspend during the 2015/16 year. The total overage was $540,000.

“The main contributing factor to this excess is the professional fees for the Ritch & Conolly report on the annual permanent [residence] points system and software license penalties from Oracle Corporation,” the auditor’s report noted.

The fees paid to Oracle are a separate issue and relate to the number of Oracle software licenses being operated by the government. Planning Ministry officials, who now have responsibility for the government Computer Services Department, said the issue has since been resolved.

Premier McLaughlin said late last year that the immigration consultant’s report is considered legal advice to government and that his administration is still planning further changes to the residency grant system based on its findings.

“I am not about to put that [report] in the hands of lawyers who are filing suits against the government every other day with respect to immigration matters,” Mr. McLaughlin told the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee in November.

Precisely what changes to the current permanent residence system government is considering have not been made public. However, local immigration attorneys have noted changes to the system made in March 2017 that allowed government to begin hearings on more than 1,100 backlogged residency applications were “largely cosmetic” and did not fix deep-seated problems that have existed since 2004.

No further changes to the residency grant system have been made since last spring, but Mr. McLaughlin has said on several occasions that there would still have to be changes to the residency process to address issues which “derailed” it for about two-and-a-half years between January 2015 and June 2017. Steady hearings held by Immigration Department staffers and the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board since then have been lowering the number of backlogged applications from people who had waited more than three years in some cases for their matters to be heard. As of mid-January 2018, only 400 more residency applications remained to be heard.

In early 2017, a ruling by Cayman’s chief justice effectively blocked the release of the Ritch Report following a lengthy open records request process.

The then-Information Commissioner’s Office indicated it would challenge Chief Justice Anthony Smellie’s decision to the Court of Appeal, but the newly created Ombudsman’s Office – which has taken over the responsibilities of the information commissioner – has not made a final determination on what it will do with the court case.