(CNS): Officials from the Department of Immigration have said that there are now eight people from the department on required leave for one reason or another after three more people were suspended last week following their arrest in an anti-corruption case. It is also understood that the eight people on enforced leave includes Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans, who has been suspended for more than two years on full pay and benefits because of a still undisclosed alleged infraction.
Despite these problems, Acting CIO Bruce Smith said the 160 or so employees in the department are committed to upholding the law and protecting Cayman’s borders, and that there was a zero-tolerance policy towards employee misconduct and unlawful behaviour.
Smith said the latest group of immigration workers to be placed on leave was down to the work of the DoI itself. “These arrests came about as a direct result of the immigration department following the correct procedure and bringing suspected wrongdoers to the attention of the proper authorities for further investigation,” he explained, adding that the rest of his team was working hard.
“Every single day, the dedicated men and women of the Department of Immigration come to work to serve this country. Together the team of more than 160 employees share one goal, which is to keep all persons in the Cayman Islands safe,” Smith added.
Although Smith maintained that the DoI values safety and security of the public above all else, a member of its senior management team, Garfield Wong, remains at his desk despite facing charges of drinking and driving, careless driving and leaving the scene of an accident in which a person was injured.
The collision between the truck Wong was driving and a BMW happened in 2013 on Shamrock Road. The senior officer, who has denied the allegations and is due in court for his continuing trial in March, has never been placed on leave regarding these charges. By comparison, John Bodden, the former acting chief fire officer who faced similar charges, was placed on required leave until earlier this month, when his two-year-old traffic case was dismissed.
Immigration staff are on leave for various infractions, including cases that are going through the courts. Smith said individuals are placed on required leave in accordance with the provisions of the Public Service Management Law, “and in the best interest of all concerned, most importantly the public”.
Smith added that the DoI would continue to be transparent about all infractions and investigations, and stressed that the department in no way condoned the alleged actions of the individuals.
“We are committed to our values of excellence, accountability and integrity and we will continue to live by that code of conduct moving forward,” he said.
Despite the problems facing some staff, the acting chief said that last year immigration officers arrested more than 500 people for immigration offences, including the most common breach of illegal landing, but also for work permit infractions, overstaying and forgery.
He noted that the department processes all arrivals at Cayman Islands ports and airports, amounting to some two million people a year, and generates millions of dollars in annual revenue from immigration fees, administrative fines but also fines paid for offences. This last figure amounted to $400,000 in the past year.
Over the next year, Smith said, there would be more specialised training and development for his staff in countering risk, the immigration law training and sensitisation, as well as internal cross-training. There will also be personal development support for staff in areas like business, accounting and legal studies, and the enhanced use of the Intelligence Unit.