(CNS): Minutes of the deputy governor’s meetings with civil service management, released this week in response to an FOI request made by Cayman News Service, revealed that the now-suspended governor, Anwar Choudhury, was taking a direct and active role in the management of the public service and attended all of the chief officers’ meetings during his short time here. Choudhury was recalled to London in the face of complaints about his behaviour by staff, but officials have rejected the idea that his close scrutiny of the local civil service management played a part in those complaints.
But the minutes show that Choudhury had concerns about the management of the service and had expressed them clearly to chief officers, and was evidently expecting them to deliver quick results. He told the civil service heads that he wanted to see better common sense decisions being made more quickly.
The deputy governor’s office began releasing the minutes of meetings back in 2012, but over the last few years public access became limited as the minutes were no longer circulated, nor were they regularly posted to the government website.
CNS therefore requested the last 12 months of minutes via the Freedom of Information Law. The documents give an albeit brief insight into the issues occupying the time of the country’s highest paid bureaucrats, and it is clear from the minutes in April, May and June that Choudhury was attending the meetings and was not merely a passive observer.
In April, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson renamed his meetings with chief officers the “Senior Leadership Team Meetings”. The minutes for that month document Choudhury’s first appearance, when he outlined his expectations for a much more agile service, moving at speed, cutting red tape and delivering value for money. He lamented a lack of urgency and indicated that public servants had to satisfy the needs of the government’s customers, not themselves.
During his second meeting, cutting red tape was the priority and the senior civil servants were asked to submit proposals. But the governor was also steering them towards a much more transparent approach, with a civil service assessment panel made up of MLAs, stakeholders from the business community and the media to rate the performance and identify problems in the civil service, as well as more direct public surveys.
In the meeting on 4 June, just a week before he was recalled to London, Choudhury was pushing for the launch of a public campaign about cutting red tape as soon as possible and urging the process forward. By the next meeting on 18 June, however, the governor had been suspended. Although the issues he had raised were still being discussed, the sense of urgency seemed to fade. Suggestions for a press conference on 5 July were made but no such event ever took place to launch the public campaign.
The release of documents also reveals the deputy governor’s efforts to get a report on sick leave, which he raised during the meeting on 17 July last year. But the minutes show that the governor’s concern about a lack of urgency appear well-founded. Manderson indicated in July 2017 that he had asked the Strategic Reforms Unit to review the support being offered to civil servants who are sick and whether leave was being abused.
But despite asking for the report in September, the COs did not meet with the DG again until October 2017, when the subject is not addressed. The sick leave issue was not mentioned again until 11 months later at the 4 June meeting, when a new template is raised for recording details of staff who are absent due to illness.
Then, at the 18 June meeting, almost a year after the DG first raised the issue, the COs are all given an extended deadline to submit their statistics, which was expected to help answer the question, do we have a problem with sick leave? But it appears that it is not until that question is addressed that the civil service will make plans do anything about a problem that many already believe is self-evident.
Whether or not Choudhury’s efforts to light a fire under the civil service management team had any connection to the complaints against him remains to be seen, as officials here and in London have remained tight-lipped about his removal. While allegations of bullying from both his office and household staff appear to be at the heart of the complaints, no one has confirmed the details.
There have been no updates in recent weeks about Choudhury, his possible return or permanent removal or his replacement. In the original statement announcing his suspension, Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials indicated their expectation that the probe would be concluded before the end of this month.
In the meantime, the DG continues to act in the role of governor, with chief officers rotating to take on the role of acting deputy governor.
CNS note: Government officials have confirmed that in future the minutes will be posted on the DG’s office website. Officials also said there was only one meeting during the first quarter of this year because the deputy governor and chief officers were focusing on implementing the 5 Year Strategic Plan.