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Complaints Commissioner – an office open to all residents

It was a bus ride into town that first gave Nicola Williams a sneak peek into everyday life in the Cayman Islands: “When I first came here, for ten days I took the bus along West Bay Road into the office. While I was sitting on the bus I could hear people grumbling about different arms of government, but coming to the conclusion there was nothing that could be done,” she said.

It was that experience, when she moved here from the UK two years ago, which led Ms. Williams to believe that her office – the Office of the Complaints Commissioner, could and should do something about it.

London born and raised, Ms. Williams practiced as a barrister in the UK for several years before being appointed as ombudsman specialising in police issues. In 1991 she won Cosmopolitan Magazine’s ‘Woman of Achievement,’ award in the ‘Professional’ category.

Last year she was appointed as a part-time judge in the U.K, and is also distinguished by being the first woman President of the Caribbean Ombudsmen’s Association.

Explaining the nature of her job, Ms Williams said: “The OCC (Office of the Complaints Commissioner) is here to make government work better – to hold them accountable when they get things wrong – and where we can, to help them put it right.”

“The general work of the office deals with complaints, in writing or in person, pertaining to a total of 83 different government entities,” she said.

“I can (also) do an investigation of my own motion,” she said.

Own Motion Investigations (OMIs) typically involve a serious matter of national public importance. There have been two OMIs completed while Ms Williams has been Complaints Commissioner, an investigation into the Islands’ mental health law and regulations, and also an investigation into the ability of the National Pensions Office to effectively inspect, monitor, charge and convict companies that were non-compliant with pensions legislation.

The latest OMI involves a look at the effectiveness of enforcement of the 2007 Labour Law with regard to construction site safety.

Ms Williams has also been involved in helping government entities set up their own internal complaints departments, and her office is actively engaged in monitoring their effectiveness:

“We formally require them to submit quarterly reports on the number and type of complaints they get,” she said.

Remarking on differences she has noticed since coming to live here, Ms Williams said, “One big cultural difference between here and the UK, which is both a positive and a negative thing depending on how you look at it, is that the Cayman Islands is a very small society, both in terms of geography and population.

“The negative aspect of this is when I first came here many people had complaints but didn’t want to come to the office because of this – it was a confidentiality issue.”

However, Ms Williams believes that that aspect has definitely changed for the better. “The positive side of it is that good news travels fast. When people realised that we were confidential and also when they knew that we were prepared to investigate difficult and contentious subjects, more people started to come forward to make complaints. We now have, for the first time in the history of this office, 51 % (up from 32%) of complaints that are from Caymanians without a corresponding drop in complaints from expatriates,” she said.

But Ms Williams is also particularly keen to point out that she is there to serve anyone who might have a complaint against a government entity, provided they have been here for at least six months. “This office is an office for all the residents of the Cayman Islands whether you’re an ex-pat or Caymanian, or whatever your economic status,” she said.

Ms Williams also stressed that if anyone on a work permit was worried about word getting back to someone who might cause trouble for them, she would deal with the matter in confidence. “If they felt they are being victimised as a result of the complaint, I would consider that as an aggravating feature of the original complaint.” Ms Williams added.


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