EDITORIAL – Hiring authority: It must not be delegated or usurped

What Deputy Governor Franz Manderson knows, and former Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks ought to know, is that department heads – not appointed commissions – MUST be empowered to make hiring decisions. They cannot be delegated to – or usurped by – outside bodies.

This basic tenet of running organizations is immutable and indisputable. No CEO in the private sector and no chief officer in the public sector can take responsibility – or be held accountable – for the performance of the organization if this basic tenet of management is infringed upon.

Another way of stating this principle, perhaps in a more practical way because it applies to everyone from the rawest recruit to the loftiest manager, is this: “Never accept a position in which you are given the responsibility – but not the authority – to execute your duties.”

Which brings us to the current dispute raging between, on the one hand, Mr. Ebanks and the Civil Service Appeals Commission which he chairs and, on the other, Christen Suckoo, chief officer of the Ministry of Education, and Franz Manderson, deputy governor and head of the Civil Service.

The details of this saga are straightforward and undisputed:

  • The chief officer, on behalf of the education ministry, sought to hire a full-time Human Resources director to address the needs of the nearly 1,000 employees in the Ministry of Education. The position had been filled by an “acting” HR director, an expatriate.
  • During the recruitment process, a number of applicants, including some Caymanians, applied for the position. All of the leading candidates were interviewed and a decision was reached. The “acting director,” that is the expatriate, was recommended by the recruitment panel for the position. Both Mr. Suckoo and Mr. Manderson supported the panel’s decision.
  • However, an unsuccessful candidate, a Caymanian, appealed the decision to the Civil Service Appeals Commission which, in effect, overturned the panel’s hiring decision and ordered Mr. Suckoo and Mr. Manderson to hire the Caymanian applicant.

The finding of the Civil Service Appeals Commission not only was unprecedented but trespassed into territory rightly reserved for the management of a government department.

The order further stated that the Caymanian applicant must be offered the post as of Feb. 15, 2018, and that she receive additional “back pay” dating to September 2017 when the position was first awarded.

And the order did not stop there: It further instructed that if the Caymanian applicant turned down the position, it must then be offered to the second most successful Caymanian who applied. If neither accepted the position, the job must be readvertised.

This overreach by the Appeals Commission must not, and cannot, be tolerated.

Opportunistically, Bernie Bush, an elected member representing West Bay North, has inserted himself into this brouhaha, recklessly charging racism, gender discrimination, and bias against Caymanian applicants. Surely Mr. Bush knows that it is both inappropriate and impermissible under the Cayman Islands Constitution for elected members to interject themselves into the hiring practices of the Civil Service. Specifically, the Constitution sets forth that the public service is a reserved power for the Governor which, in this instance and routinely, is delegated to the Deputy Governor. Proper sanction by the House of Mr. Bush’s breach of this constitutional edict needs to be forthcoming.

Mr. Manderson, now acting governor, has received legal advice regarding the unassailable principle that he, as de facto head of the Civil Service, has ultimate and irrefutable hiring power in the Service.

Having been overseer of the Civil Service himself, certainly Mr. Ebanks knows that no appointed commission can be determinative in hiring decisions. He needs to step back from his position – or step down from his office.

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