Civil servants and petitions

| 19/11/2018

Could you please tell us whether or not civil servants would be able to collect signatures in addition to signing petitions?

Cayman Islands, Ask Auntie, CNS Local LifeAuntie’s answer: I received a detailed response from Deputy Governor Franz Manderson explaining the policy both on signing petitions and canvassing for signatures. The overriding concern is that civil servants maintain impartiality so that, for example, they shouldn’t “challenge government policy” or be “seen to be partisan by participating on a political platform”.

Basically, it is acceptable for civil servants to attend political meetings to be informed but it is not appropriate to appear to take sides with one group or another. The same consideration applies to collecting signatures, such as for the petition being circulated in support of a people-initiated referendum on the proposal for a cruise-berthing facility, which could be viewed as defying the government.

If in doubt, Mr Manderson recommends you speak to your manager or a human resources representative.

See the full response from the deputy governor below.

As your reader notes, civil servants are allowed to sign petitions unless they have a professional conflict as identified under the civil service policy on the signing of petitions. This policy does not specifically address whether civil servants can collect signatures. However, it does set out the legislative and general context. Most importantly, The Cayman Islands Constitutional Order 2009 advances basic human rights while also noting that it may be necessary to limit the right of expression for ‘public officers in the interests of the proper performance of their functions’.

Though your reader’s question does not indicate the type of petition in question, it is understood to refer to petitions intending to trigger a people-initiated referendum. Where these petitions address issues that would challenge government policy, it would not be appropriate for civil servants to act as agents of such causes by soliciting signatures. This advice is similar to civil servants having the right to be informed by attending political meetings during an election, but that they should not be seen to be partisan by participating on a political platform.

The Public Service Management Law sets out the Public Servants Code of Conduct, which specifies that public servants must ensure they maintain the confidence of the government and are able to establish the same impartial relationship with future governments. It further states that public servants have the right to be politically informed but must ensure that their participation in a political matter, public debate or discussion does not conflict with their obligation to be politically neutral. In a community of our size, this can present real challenges. However, the Civil Service has always faithfully served the government of the day, the Legislative Assembly and the public, maintaining the confidence of each administration.

Where individual civil servants have a question or concern about the current policy and how it applies to their specific role and/or a specific petition, we encourage them to speak to their manager or an HR professional, who can refer them to the Office of the Deputy Governor as appropriate. There is a balance to be struck and the advice offered above is intended to help civil servants act appropriately.

See the policy guide on signing of petitions in the CNS Library

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