Letter: Miller expands on CIAA concerns

I take this opportunity to thank you for your past fair and balanced reporting.

I have enjoyed a long and mutually rewarding relationship with many of the staff of the Cayman Compass and it is my sincere hope that that association will continue without any undue discord.

However, I must comment on the disappointing nature of your editorial of Thursday, Feb. 21 [“Miller ‘flying blind’ in complaints about CIAA recruitment”].

First, I respect your right to your opinion and I am the first to support engagement in healthy debate. Democracy is messy, and truth-finding in a complex issue is further constrained by the piecemeal delivery of information and the need to get messages out quickly – and in this case, indeed, timeliness was essential.

However, as much as I would wish to set the record straight, your opening argument is so unsophisticated and irrelevant that I am sorry to say that I cannot bring myself to dignify it with a comment.

I am equally incredulous that my concern about jobs for Caymanians should be interpreted as to be “based on the absurd protectionist fantasy that a small population such as Cayman’s can find ‘homegrown’ experts in all the specialized fields necessary for prosperity in a complex global economy.”

That again is too naïve a charge to merit a response. Again, I am sincerely trying very hard to be kind.

However, I must draw attention to – and I will comment on – your supporting argument that “many municipalities and jurisdictions [in other countries] find themselves having to make do with poorly qualified candidates who yield predictably poor results.”

I certainly hope you are not meaning to imply that the CIAA’s (Cayman Islands Airports Authority) or any other local entity’s recruitment of Caymanians would necessarily result in their recruiting “poorly qualified candidates” who “predictably” cannot do the job. Those are the sort of oblique but transparent statements that are just not helpful in an environment in which every effort should be made to secure jobs for Caymanians and to ensure new recruits are well trained and prepared to take their place confidently in positions in their own country. They deserve at least that.

Perhaps you are not aware that it is a common occurrence today that many Caymanians are shunted aside at the workplace and not allowed to advance – or even not allowed into the door – based on the same type of attitudes and at times excuses in your editorial implying “predictable” inequalities between “homegrown” and imported workers. Representations along these lines are made to me on a constant basis and I will not be deterred from speaking out on their behalf regardless of hyperbolic and irrelevant comparison to other countries.

However, while much of your editorial was not the finest example of logical argumentation, it has given me a welcome opportunity to provide some background for the public. Many people may be unaware, for example, that among my decades of service to this country I have benefited from a past 15-month stint as a chairman of the Immigration Board.

To my tenure as chairman, I brought my solid commitment to fair and balanced decision making: Fair to businesses when they could validate their case, while insisting on justice for Caymanians. I am not now, and never have been, anti-business.

And let me hasten to fill you in on my other prior and current roles which have solidified my personal insights into the complexity of recruiting qualified staff. Before entering politics, I successfully owned and operated several medical businesses. I also spent six years as the HR manager for one of the Big Four accounting companies in the financial industry. For the last fifteen years, I have served as a highly sought-after consultant in the healthcare and human resources industries.

With this experience as a businessman and from insights gained on the Immigration Board and my many years in politics, I have an ingrained appreciation that as a developing country we will continue to have a need to recruit from overseas.

However, while you may not have been aware of all of my background, you are well aware of my predisposition for fairness, practicality and good old common sense. I was therefore rather taken aback that you leaped from my concern about training and preparing Caymanians for jobs to imply that there is some wholesale underlying or overt rejection on my part of the need to recruit overseas workers when necessary.

For the record, for you as editor and the public, my press release never at any time stated or implied that the CIAA should not recruit from overseas, but it did ask for a review of the recruitment plan, and that the CIAA consider replacing the terms being offered with more temporary arrangements that would prioritize training and professional development of Caymanians.

Rationale for the large recruitment initiative

I will now turn to the stated rationale for the recruitment, whether local or overseas, of so many additional ATCs.

First, according to your report, the CIAA plans to undertake phased recruitment of 13 new air traffic controllers, “specially to deal with increasing air traffic.” Including supervisors, this would be a projected increase in ATC staff of 218 percent.

Meanwhile, the increase in air traffic movements over the last four years, from 2015 to 2018, is around 8 percent. The increase in air traffic movements in  the most recent… 2018 over the previous year was a consistent 3 percent.

Those statistics speak for themselves.

The claim of a regulatory requirement

You further reported that the CIAA has stated that this large increase in ATC staffing was prompted by “regulatory” requirements. I am reliably informed that no directive for increased ATC staff has been issued by the local regulatory authority, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands (CAACI). I have placed an FOI request to confirm this, and you are also at liberty to conduct a similar probe.

The main claim behind the new thrust to fulfill these supposed new regulatory requirements is that the CIAA (Airports Authority) is now faced with splitting its staff into two, affording the simultaneous operation of separate “desks” for aerodrome and approach duties, respectively. Please note, however, that the split desk system was introduced in May 2015 and was formally adopted in September 2015. So, this policy has been in place for four years come September 2019.

CIAA Recruitment Drive

With regard to the plan to recruit the said 13 new ATCs, whether justified or not, I would have expected that the CIAA would have simultaneously announced an aggressive recruitment drive on a national scale to secure the brightest Caymanians with the necessary aptitudes. This aggressive national drive has not come to my notice, but I do not doubt that some effort has been made.

So far, according to your report, the CIAA’s recent efforts have yielded one ATC in training and four ATC trainees in the process of preparing for overseas training. That is good news, and I am sure there will be no decline in standards of performance once they are suitably trained and allowed to grow professionally on the job and with the required further training.

On the matter of continuing recruitment, it is my firm belief that a committed aggressive, properly conceived and regular recruitment program over the next several years, will enable the CIAA to continue to suitably CaymaniseCaymanize? its ATC staffing.

I hope the CIAA will commit to such suitable recruitment and staff development initiatives targeting Caymanians, and are not being discouraged by past results.

My suggestion would be that the CIAA re-examine the effectiveness of their recruitment and staff development programs and re-engineer them with a view to improving the outcome for Caymanians.

Friends, when we capitulate and weaken our resolve to recruit Caymanians, we feed into the much-too-often prevailing notion that Caymanians are not capable, and weaken the self-confidence of our youth seeking to begin their adult lives and of our Caymanian employees.

We cannot afford that. We need a strong, empowered local workforce, and must never take the easy way out.

However, let no one misconstrue my commitment to robust Caymanian recruitment and staff development initiatives to mean that overseas recruitment is objectionable in and of itself.

The public and private sectors will continue to recruit overseas as necessary, but we must also, at the same time, give our people a fighting chance and not demean them even before they are offered an opportunity. Caymanians must be afforded preferential employment in their country on a level employment and professional development playing field.

Finally, to be absolutely clear, I am neither anti-business nor anti-expatriate workers.

We must all work together in unity and harmony for the well-being of the Cayman Islands and its future.

Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to continued amicable discourse with your media practitioners to the benefit of the people of the Cayman Islands.

Kind regards,

Ezzard Miller