After nearly four hours of debate on Thursday afternoon, the Legislative Assembly voted against a private members’ motion made by opposition legislator Kenneth Bryan to make the positions of chief fire officer and chief immigration officer Caymanian-only roles.
Mr. Bryan admitted that there may be “controversy” about whether government has the legal authority to designate civil service positions for Caymanians only, but said his motion is crucial for “protecting our culture.”
He said there may be non-Caymanians who are more qualified for certain positions, but that those people might not fit in with the local community.
“They came off conveyer belts. They don’t care about anything else – it’s all about the corporate world or civil service world,” he said. “Their cultures, their behaviors, their norms are coming out in their decisions and affecting who we are as Caymanians.”
In response, Acting Deputy Governor Gloria McField-Nixon pointed out that the Immigration Department and the Fire Service are almost entirely occupied by Caymanians, with 99.4-percent and 98.5-percent Caymanian participation rates, respectively.
The only time a chief immigration officer was non-Caymanian was during a brief succession period when former Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson was preparing to fill the post, she said, asking why government should legislate for a problem that does not exist.
Ms. McField-Nixon added that the chief fire officer has traditionally been a Caymanian, but United Kingdom national David Hails had to be hired in 2015 because there were no qualified Caymanians to fill the position. The ministry responsible for the Fire Service conducted three recruitment exercises, but Caymanian applicants either did not have the proper qualifications or scored too low in the interview and testing segments of the hiring process, she said.
The acting deputy governor attributed this to the fact that three Caymanian chief fire officers retired all in a relatively short time span, leaving no qualified replacements in their wake.
Ms. McField-Nixon is currently the acting deputy governor while Mr. Manderson is acting governor in the interim period before incoming governor Anwar Choudhury arrives in Cayman on March 25.
Premier Alden McLaughlin echoed Ms. McField-Nixon’s comments, saying government had no choice but to hire a non-Caymanian to be the chief fire officer.
“I was so upset that I insisted in seeing the scores of those who took the tests,” he said. “Faced with the scores I saw, there was no way I could even begin to make the case that there was a choice besides the one decided on – to go with a foreign applicant.”
While Mr. Bryan’s motion is well-intentioned, it would have the effect of “dumbing down” the qualifications for the positions in question, said Mr. McLaughlin, who earlier in the day had announced the creation of a commission to field complaints from Caymanian job-seekers who feel they have been discriminated against during the hiring process.
Speaking during her portion of the debate, Home Affairs Minister Tara Rivers said that members of the Legislative Assembly do not have the power to hire or fire civil servants, but that they are able to allocate more money to train Caymanians who will be qualified to take high-level positions. She said her ministry has allocated $321,000 for the training of fire officers this year, which is a 34 percent increase over last year’s training budget.
Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller also spoke during the debate. He said his issue with the motion is that designating certain positions for Caymanians implies that other positions should be held by non-Caymanians. Instead, government should have a default policy of designating all positions for Caymanians unless it can be definitively proved that there are no qualified people for the job.
Closing up the debate, Mr. Bryan took issue with government’s contention that it does not have the power to designate specific civil service posts for Caymanians only. Legislators can pass laws or even amend the constitution to do this, he contended.
Nevertheless, the motion was opposed by all ministers and government backbenchers that were present. Four opposition members – Mr. Bryan, Alva Suckoo, Anthony Eden and Chris Saunders – voted in its favor, Mr. Miller abstained, and there were two absentees.