Serving prisoners will be used as temporary garbage collectors in a new scheme to deal with continued delays in roadside trash collections.
Amid staff shortages and problems with “absenteeism” among some current workers at the Department of Environmental Health, government has resorted to hiring additional staff on temporary contracts. Government also plans to use prisoners as assistant garbage collectors in an effort to prevent a repeat of the chaos last December when garbage was left uncollected on the roadside over the Christmas period.
Prisoners will ride the garbage trucks and assist crews collecting trash in neighborhoods across Grand Cayman, according to Minister of Health Dwayne Seymour.
Problems with roadside collections have persisted for the past 12 months, with the department facing additional scrutiny after an internal audit revealed it had exceeded its overtime budget by 800 percent in 2016/17. The head of the department, Roydell Carter, who was blamed by auditors for the debacle, has since retired, after being on leave for nine months. Minister Seymour acknowledged Friday that prolonged and continued issues with garbage collection were a national embarrassment. Speaking in response to questions from George Town legislator Kenneth Bryan during a meeting of the Legislative Assembly, he said government had hired 11 temporary staff and was training prisoners to supplement roadside collection crews.
He said a longer term disciplinary process was going on with staff who were under-performing or consistently not showing up to work. Asked why they could not simply be fired, he said the civil service had a legal process to go through in such situations.
He insisted government was getting to grips with the situation. He said temporary workers would be coming back into the department on Monday while prisoners were already being trained to join them in the coming weeks.
He said the plan would also help with the reintegration and rehabilitation of low-risk prisoners into the community.
“I can only applaud the director of the prison for thinking of this method to be able to fill the gaps. In case of absenteeism we have a backup plan as we try to resolve the human resources problem that we have,” said Seymour.
He said the prisoners would be supervised and the program would not put the community at risk.
“The prisoners that will be involved in this are all low risk and they will be properly assessed and trained before this program is rolled out.
“We have to give them some opportunity. We have to try. If it doesn’t work, then we will change our strategy.”
The Compass understands the DEH has performance and absenteeism concerns over around a dozen staff, but the lengthy internal disciplinary process, required by law, for government workers means it is having difficulty getting rid of them. Minister Seymour admitted he was frustrated at the pace of the process but said the workers were Caymanians and had to be treated with respect and afforded due process under the civil service laws.
“I don’t hire and fire and I have to respect the process, albeit the process does seem a little long,” he said. “It is embarrassing for our country that we have a national problem such as this and it couldn’t be remedied as quick as possible.
He said action was being taken internally that could not be revealed publicly.
Mr. Bryan, who asked several questions on the issue, said he sympathized with the minister, who was bearing the brunt of the public backlash over tardy roadside garbage collections. He said he was pleased to see government trying to work out solutions but was reserving judgment on the concept of putting prisoners on garbage trucks.
He said he supported community rehabilitation programs, but was concerned about the level of supervision of offenders assigned to ride garbage trucks.
“I am not saying it is a bad program, but if you are going to do something like that, I think you need community buy-in. I don’t think they have had any public consultation on it at all,” he said.