The Cayman Islands government has been investigating a complaint of gender bias within the local prison service for more than a year.

The Standards in Public Life Commission requested an internal investigation following Cayman Compass reports in November 2016 about a family friend of former Prisons Director Neil Lavis who was hired as a prisons manager and paid a slightly higher salary than her four male counterparts.

Commission members indicated that they were concerned about some of the issues raised in the newspaper report, which was based on the findings of government’s Gender Equality Tribunal, the body tasked with receiving gender discrimination complaints.

“Such concerns included the apparent lack of proper applicability of best practice surrounding conflicts of interest by public officials,” the public standards commission noted in its most recent annual report, which was made public last week.

The commission asked, in February 2017, that the deputy governor’s office confirm an internal review into the matter was under way.

Commission secretary Deborah Bodden said Friday that the commission was informed an internal audit was being done but that it was “not yet ready.”

“No further update has been provided to the commission,” the report noted.

The four-member gender tribunal ruled on Nov. 3, 2016 that four male prison custodial managers were paid about 2 percent less in annual salary than the female prison supervisor and were not given a motor vehicle upkeep allowance as she was.

The tribunal ruling also states that the female supervisor, Nina White, was a family friend of Cayman Islands Prisons Director Neil Lavis and that she had been a member of Mr. Lavis’s staff in the U.K. between 2000 and 2004.

According to the tribunal records, Mr. Lavis informed the prison interview panel of his relationship with the potential prison hire and that the other members “did not see this as a conflict of interest which would prevent him from sitting on a panel to interview her.”

“[Ministry of Home Affairs Deputy Chief Officer Kathryn] Dinspel-Powell also confirmed that [Mr. Lavis] had informed the ministry of his friendship with Ms. White prior to the interview,” the tribunal documents stated. “She stated that the ministry wasn’t concerned with a material conflict because it was a panel of four persons and given the experience of the persons on the panel, any possible conflicts would be balanced out because they would know who would be a good fit for the positions.”

The tribunal was incredulous about these claims: “The tribunal found it difficult to understand why, if these various disclosures of the director’s prior relationship with Ms. White had been made, this had not been noted in the [job] interview notes or elsewhere …. In fact, it appears that the relationship was not disclosed in these proceedings until a letter from the Attorney General’s Chambers dated Aug. 4, 2016 [responded] to a query by the counsel for the complainants [the four male prison managers].”

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