Mr. Speaker, Good Morning. First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to command the general public so far in adhering to the guidance issued by the Government and the Ministry of Health, and continue working together as one nation to combat this terrible virus.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to update this Honourable House and the General Public on the progress, my government and in particular my Ministry, the Ministry of Immigration, Citizenship, Labour and Employment Services, has made during the financial year 2019/20.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say how happy I am to be able to come before this honourable House to talk the successes of my Ministry as well as to express my gratitude and say a BIG thank you to all the staff for their hard work and perseverance despite all that is happening.
DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION
Mr. Speaker, I now turn our attention to the Department of Immigration. The Department continues to focus on resolving the many issues surrounding the thousands of undocumented immigrants in The Turks and Caicos Islands, those who would like to visit but require a Visitor Visa or those persons seeking Residence Permits through marriage to a Turks and Caicos Islander of British Overseas Territory Citizen.
Mr. Speaker, the continued objective of the Department is to remove the bureaucracy where possible and delays that exist in the Department.
Mr. Speaker, in the 2019/2020 Budget, the Department of Immigration received an allocation of US$5,982,653. In the upcoming 2020/2021 budget cycle the Department anticipates $5,708,638. Salaries increased from $2,362,644 to $2,554,128. The additional $299,915.00 in this year’s budget makes provision for the employment of ten (10) additional Immigration Officers, and one (1) Senior Immigration Officer. This is part of our initiative to strengthen compliance, enforcement and prosecutions. The Uniform and Protective Gear allocation will be increased from $34,493 to $42,988 to accommodate the new recruits and those who require varied uniforms. The allowance will also increase commensurately to the number of new staff.
Mr. Speaker, the Enforcement Unit will be divided into two sections with clearly defined terms of reference. The new section will be headed by a Senior Immigration Officer. One section will oversee apprehensions, respond to reports, processing of repatriated persons while the other section will be dedicated to inspections, investigations and human trafficking.
Mr. Speaker, you see, enforcement on the landside falls within the remit of the Department of Immigration while that of marine interest is managed by our partners at the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force, for which we are so grateful.
Mr. Speaker, $255,048 has been appropriated for overtime this fiscal year. This is to cover cost of additional hours beyond the shift system.
Mr. Speaker, as it relates to Repatriation, the Department has had its challenges, and with the increasing inflow of illegal migrants to our borders, the cost of repatriations continues to grow. Expenditure on repatriations for the fiscal period April 2019 to March 31, 2020 was $2,070,000. The same period 2,329 illegal immigrants were repatriated from eight (8) landings, fourteen (14) interceptions and one thousand four hundred and eight six (1,486) on land apprehensions. During the 2019/2020 period there were 914 apprehensions. This increased by 572 represents a significant 62 percent over the previous period. Mr. Speaker, this target is much in excess of the projected 50 percent as proposed in last year’s budget and the Officers should be applauded for their stellar efforts.
Mr. Speaker, although the 2019/2020 budget allocation for repatriations will not increase from $2,070,000, it is our intention to increase our enforcement and removal programmes. We will continue to working with the Royal Turks & Caicos Islands Police Force, the US Coast Guard and the Bahamas Defense Force to try and mitigate the illegal vessels from making landfall here in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Whilst no provision has been made in this Budget period, the Department will continue to review the building of a purpose built Detention Centre in the medium to long term.
Mr. Speaker, we have introduced four drones to the Department and Officer manning these apparatuses have been trained by a local company certified by the Turks and Caicos Islands Civil Aviation Authority. Mr. Speaker, these drones will assist with the detection and arrest of illegal immigrants.
Under this Budget, the Department will again be responsible for the food, security and cleaning at the Detention Centre. The Repatriation allocation has not evolved to a separate cost center due to the amount and risks associated with spending.
Mr. Speaker, the Ministry continues to agitate for new buses/vehicles for the Immigration Department. These purpose-build buses/vehicles in order to more efficiently carry out their duties.
Mr. Speaker, I will speak on the Detention Centre now.
Mr. Speaker, the detention of persons who have infringed the laws of this land remains a prime function. Despite the costs and other issues aligned with detention, we have legal obligations to ensure that the Detention Centre operates at minimum international standards.
Mr. Speaker, a tender has been awarded to upgrade the center, inclusive of creating appropriate user friendly space for families and children. In addition, the fencing and lighting will be included and amenities for recreation. This project is being done at a costs of US$50,000.
Mr. Speaker, the House will see this being a key programme strategy 2020/2021.
Mr. Speaker, last year, we informed this House that we were finalizing the introduction of the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS). I am pleased to announce that APIS was introduced in June 2019 to inbound and the critical exit capability was introduced in August 2019.
This system has enhanced border security by enabling advance intelligence gathering of passengers at air and seaports. This has enhanced our efficiencies for improved tourism experience as well as by extension improved the safety of citizens and hardening of our borders.
Mr. Speaker, My Ministry is also committed to creating new avenues to improve the ease of doing business in the Turks and Caicos Islands and ensuring that all facets of the Department function in accordance with global best practices. With that being said, the Government is currently undertaking a complete review of the Immigration laws and have met with the Office of the Attorney General towards drafting revised aspects of legislation. These amendments will be made public soon.
Mr. Speaker, The Department of Immigration is responsible for providing identity documents to Residence Permit holders who wish to legally work or reside in The Turks and Caicos Islands. The Department also functions as the regulatory body for the movement of persons across the borders of The Turks and Caicos Islands and the enforcement of all laws pursuant to the Immigration Ordinance 2018 Revised and Employment Ordinance primarily.
The Department has been challenged with the use of outdated equipment and antiquated systems which has contributed to much of the backlog currently existing in the Department. In the past this had negatively impacted staff productivity and the Department’s service delivery to the general public and corporate Turks and Caicos Islands.
Mr. Speaker, in order to address the inefficiencies of the current manual systems, last Financial Year we embarked to two additional projects with the primary goals and objectives to improve the efficiency and speed of application processing.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to inform this House that holder of Permanent Residence Certificate no longer receive paper card but rather electronic credit card like cards. Mr. Speaker, I further inform this House that holders of Residence Permit Cards within a few short weeks, with the deployment of this new system, the Department will launch a newly designed, secure tamper resistant identification card to replace the current paper cards being issued to the public.
Mr. Speaker, this represents a strategic undertaking to enhance border security and increase the efficiency of services delivered by the Department. This is progress!!
Mr. Speaker, it is my plan in the short to medium term to move to a paperless process with the digitization of files in order to reduce dependency on physical file movement and issues associated with this. To introduce electronic workflow management to aid in the tracking and security of application processing. To improve security controls associated with viewing and retrieval and modification of scanned documents.
Mr. Speaker, tender was issued for the procurement and installation of an Automated Finger Printing Identification System. The main objective of this planned system would be to replace the manual system, reduce the risk of identity fraud and to enhance border control through the Airports, seaports and Detention Centre.
Mr. Speaker, in addition, the Finger Printing System will feature mobile verification capability which will allow Officers to conduct real-time status checks in the field using mobile devices.
The sole bid received was much in excess of allocation, so we will revisit the same as a matter of urgency this upcoming financial year.
However, Mr. Speaker, the current server that houses the Border Management System is at risk and in fact must be upgraded prior to the installation of any additional programme including the finger printing.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce that the aligned server upgrade and stabilization of the Border Management Server was approved and works are advancing. The prime objective of this project was to stabilize the server and reduce the risk of failure. This will be met.
Mr. Speaker, last year we informed the House of our intention to improve public relations and communication with our clients. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to again inform the public through this House that results and instructions related to Visa and Residence Permit applications can now be retrieved and reviewed on the Ministry’s Webpage on the Turks and Caicos Islands Government Web Portal.
Mr. Speaker, it was promised that the Department would have a radio programme; unfortunately, this did not come to fruition. As an alternative, the Department attended several airings on two high listenership programmes. This is being visited for future interventions.
DEPARTMENT OF REGISTRATION AND CITIZENSHIP
Mr. Speaker, Registration and Citizenship Department held a successful 1981 British Nationality Act Training in September 2019. The training which was geared towards a cross section of the Ministry also saw participants from the Attorney General Chambers. On completion of the week’s training candidates received a certificate from the UK specialist.
Mr. Speaker, also in September 2019, the Registration and Citizenship introduced and replaced their paper Birth and Death certificates with a new contemporary secure paper. The new changes to this product have been well received by the Government and general public.
Mr. Speaker, Registration and Citizenship Department in collaboration with the Customer Service Office have completed a memorandum of Understanding referencing a Service Level Agreements. This agreement has been signed and implemented on October 2019 and has since resulted in a more efficient and effective working process between the two Departments.
Mr. Speaker, On April 1, 2019 the Registration and Citizenship Department implemented a new, secure pocket size laminated PRC card. In addition to the holder’s paper Permanent Residence Certificate the laminated cards afford the Principle holder, their spouse and dependents the ability to travel in and out the country without the previous challenges.
Mr. Speaker, the Department, through the assistance of the AG Chambers, executed their contract with FILESOLVE a US based company who, will implement the Computerization and Digitization of the Departments Historical Records. This, I must say is very great news.
Mr. Speaker, in moving forward Registration and Citizenship Department with approval from the Governor’s Office, will seek to implement a laminated secure card for the holders of a Naturalization and Registration certificate.
Mr. Speaker, Also, in collaboration with the CUIT Department, Registration and Citizenship Department intend to implement a digital platform that will seek to give our citizens the ability to apply for a Birth, Marriage and Death certificates online.
Mr. Speaker, Registration and Citizenship Department compliment of staff has increased by five (5) which will assist with the service delivery on the Department products. The Department has also appointed a new Registrar in Providenciales and we are in the process of advertising two (2) new vacancies which we hope to fill the first quarter of the new financial year.
For this upcoming financial year, the Registration and Citizenship Department will endeavor to roll out the following:
- Two new policies drafts seeking the increase on the amount paid against Islander Status and regulating paper Emergency Travel Documents
- The Bedside Registration which is in discussion with the Clinical staff from InterHealth and is moving forward.
- Continued international Training at ICPS in the UK will see various attachment of staff from the Department capitalizing on this initiative.
COASTAL RADAR DEPARTMENT
Mr. Speaker, we will now turn our attention to the Radar Department. the Radar Department continues to provide update of the maritime domain, providing enforcement agencies with notification of suspicious target in order to plan a response. I am happy to state that the Radar detection rate remains very high.
Mr. Speaker, joint operations continue to be conducted with Marine Division with detections of illegal sloops attempting to enter TCI Borders. There is a growing trend with power driven vessels being involved in illegal smuggling.
Mr. Speaker, the Coastal Radar is presently embarking on a project which would tremendously expand radar coverage which will result in better detection rate of vessels further away from the Turks and Caicos Islands. This will include but not limited to an additional radar and other equipment. With this initiative we would see increase detections which would give our marine branch more opportunity to mobilize and intercept these illegal vessels.
Mr. Speaker, the Radar Department is seeing a constant increase in calls from mariners for assistance and general information about ports. It is slowly becoming the center for handling all maritime calls which will be passed on to responding agents for investigation. The station will eventually become a Radar Department to handle all maritime calls.
There is an increase in dialogue with our international partners US coast Guard and Bahamas defense force.
Mr. Speaker, in September 2019, the Radar Department received an additional four (4) temporary staff, to help provide much needed assistance to the Department. In this year’s budget we will be recruiting five (5) full time staff for the Department.
Mr. Speaker, I will now look at the Labour Tribunal. The Tribunal was established under the Employment Ordinance Section 93 and was given the jurisdiction to hear and determine any and all labour disputes or complaints; and is expected to discharge its statutory functions in accordance with the Employment Ordinance.
Mr. Speaker, the Tribunal was without a president for more than two years and it was not until 2nd January 2020 that a new President was appointed. The President immediately put plans in action to review the existing backlog of cases, some dating back to 2012 and undertook critical steps in assessing the backlog and moved forward for new and pending cases. In doing so, Mr. Speaker, a Case Management team was introduced and has been very successful in identifying deficiencies and has provided for a more efficient and effective resolutions.
Mr. Speaker, the Tribunal held an orientation and training for new members, senior members and staff, which were undertaken over several days. The Tribunal now have members in all islands. International Outreach and training is underway with plans in action for staff visits to Bermuda and Northern Ireland.
Mr. Speaker, Community Outreach/ Public Awareness and Education is underway with scheduled radio program via RTC to be aired weekly on Thursday at 3:00 PM. The hour long program will be to inform the public, employees and employers of their rights under the Employment Ordinance, their rights under other International Workers Rights Instruments to include the International Labour Organization (ILO) and other International Human Rights Conventions protecting rights of workers such as Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Mr. Speaker, as a part of the Tribunal’s education campaign, Leaflets, Booklets and pamphlets have been created and will soon commence the public distributions to strategic locations throughout the islands.
Mr. Speaker, the Tribunal has re-established its presence in Grand Turk and re-opened its office and looks forward to hearing cases as early as May. Visits to all the other islands are planned and pending.
Mr. Speaker, hearings of cases have commenced and over the period of time, twenty-three (23) cases to date have been heard in the preliminary stage with eighteen (18) of those cases scheduled for Substantive hearings from March through to June, four (4) cases settled and one (1) case dismissed.
Mr. Speaker, I can truly say that the Tribunal has forged a positive relationship with the Department of Employment Services and look forward to building greater synergy between both departments for a timely redress of labour disputes.
Mr. Speaker, we are actively recruiting to fill the position of Vice President, which will assist the Tribunal in carrying out its statutory duties to dispense justice in a timely and fair manner.
CUSTOMER SERVICE DEPARTMENT
Mr. Speaker, during quarter 1 members of the Customer Service Department completed training on the disbursement of wallet size Permanent Residency Certificate (PRC) cards and is in the process of establishing frameworks to govern it. The Customer Service Department also received training along with the Registration and Citizenship department. This training was on Naturalization and BOTC Status which I touched on earlier.
Mr. Speaker, staff of the Customer Service Department also attended Management Certificate training program where two of the 3 received distinction and the other received a passing grade for the course. Management of the department both participated in international training initiatives in the area of Change management in public Services and Public Service Management.
Mr. Speaker, the Customer Service Department also had cross training with the Employment Services Department completed by one of the Customer Service Clerks. In addition, two other staff received training in management which earned them a Certificate in Management.
Mr. Speaker, within the Ministry the Customer Service Department has also establish Service Level agreements between the Department of Employment Services.
Mr. Speaker, The Customer Service Department had three (3) meetings with companies acting as agencies to assist the public with their document processing needs. These entities continue to grow and we have seen a huge increase over the past six (6) months in this area. The meeting was held to address the consistent lack of efficiency of work produced by agencies across the board. The continuous meetings are used to address these and many other issues and encourage a seamless partnership between the department and agencies conducting immigration work.
Mr. Speaker, the Customer Service Department has instituted their outreach to the family Islands, and a team of Customer Service clerks including the Manager & Supervisor of the Customer Service Department has visited the Islands of South, North & Middle Caicos on Four (4) Occasions where they met with key stakeholders to discuss new initiatives for their communities. High level of intense training was provided during these visits to strengthen the officers based in these islands on the knowledge of the products and services delivered by the Ministry.
EMPLOYMENT SERVICES DEPARTMENT
Mr. Speaker, the Employment Services Department is finalizing proposals that will introduce new policies with regards to employment in the TCI. The Department will be working towards creating better policies with regards to work permits to ensure the integrity of the applications and the process the applications go through. Over the last few years the department as seen the annual increase in work permit applications from 6,067 applications in 2017 to 8,320 in 2018 and we are currently on pace to receive close to 10,000 in 2019. In light of this Mr. Speaker, the department has commenced organizational structural changes to manage the workload effectively and efficiently.
Mr. Speaker, the department is also finalizing system changes that will enable more customer-oriented work permit application system that will help to stream line the process and give us the able to provide real time data consistently.
Mr. Speaker, the department has exceeded revenue projections by almost two million dollars in the area of work permits for 2019/20, due to the increase of work being provided by the hospitality sector through the construction industry. Mr. Speaker, the Department has also had an increase in revenue in the area of temporary work permit and the introduction of a new revenue line Identification cards which represents the cost of the physical work permit cards.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the containment measures (specifically the shutdown), and its impact on employment in the TCI:
Mr. Speaker the country has recently been faced with an unparalleled and unforeseen economic crisis, the impact of which is far reaching and has more or less crippled some of the most vulnerable industries within the Turks and Caicos. We cannot say with any degree of certainty how long this crisis will last and cannot predict the full extent of its impact. However, from the data collected thus far, we can say that as a result of this impact the country is projecting 55% unemployment for the next three months’ due mostly to the airport closure and a decrease in projected tourist arrivals. In response to these projections the government is currently evaluating proposed measures to ensure that Turks and Caicos Islanders maintain employment during this period.
Mr. Speaker as you are aware, the Tourism and hospitality industry is the bread and butter of the Turks and Caicos economy. The industry is made up of 50 registered hotels, 70 restaurants and 218 tourism related service providers throughout the TCI who are currently shut down. These businesses account for 32%-35% of employment in the TCI making them by the far largest employment sector in the country accounting for an estimated 8,050 jobs. The other key impacted sectors are Construction, Domestic Services, Transportation, Financial and Insurance activities, Arts, Entertainment and Recreation, wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles. Collectively all the industries mentioned herein, account for approximately 65% of employment in the country and given this fact you can see why the projected unemployment figures are so high. These figures present a glum picture but must be interpreted with caution given the extensiveness and instability of this pandemic.
Mr. Speaker, the Employment Services Department recognises that in mitigating this impact a robust and collective approach is required. The department is working closely with the Statistics Department to ensure that we have all the relevant data on the industries that have been impacted by the pandemic. The Employment Services Department has established two hotline numbers to receive and answer all questions and concerns from the general public during this time of uncertainty. These numbers are: (649) 348-3085; (649) 348-9340.
Mr. Speaker, since the shutdown, we received a minimum of 100 calls a day, and the questions range from contract issues, layoff and redundancy questions to questions surrounding access to the stimulus package. The officers are also advising all persons affected during this period to complete the online application so that we could have updated information on what is happening in the country with respect to employment. Currently over eight thousand applications have been received from persons in various sectors; with the hotel industry representing 54% of applications received so far.
Mr. Speaker, the department is working closely with the Statistics Unit to have more real-time data available moving forward and liaising with NIB for joint collaboration as well. We will provide weekly information as to stimulus package registration and other employment figures.
Mr. Speaker, because of COVID-19 on the economy we have kept projections for 2020/21 similar to the projections of 2019/20 as we are unsure the length of airport closure and the ripple effect the pandemic will have of the world and the hospitality sector. The Employment Services Department plans to work closely with the Hospitality sector and the Chamber of Commerce to develop a communication strategy that will help us educate the general public on their rights through a community outreach programme. The programme will also be designed to inform and educate the business community on all the products we offer and how they can be properly utilized for the growth and development of businesses in the TCI. The Department is also working on a system that will give clients 24-hour access to the status of their applications so that they can always be informed.
Mr. Speaker, the Employment Services Department is also proposing new monitoring measures that will ensure Belongers are given an opportunity for job placement and career advancement. One of the initiative will be to propose a mandatory employment registration for all persons of legal working age which would allow us to monitor the work force and analyze current skills in relation to work force demand.
Mr. Speaker, through our partnership with the Ministry of Education, the Department will be creating a mentorship as well as an on-the-job training program that will be rolled out later this year. This program looks to ensure that students on scholarship get exposure in their field of study and it also seeks to make it mandatory that they participate in this program to ensure proper job placement upon completion of their studies.
Mr. Speaker, we are looking to enhance the Department by adding services such as career counselling and employment training. These initiatives will seek to prepare our people for the world of work and provide them some of the fundamentals such as resume preparation, interviewing skills and work-place etiquette.
Mr. Speaker, the department has created better working relationships with other statutory bodies such as National Insurance Board, and National Health Insurance Board to ensure that all workers benefits are being paid in accordance with the law. The relations with these key organizations will help to monitor and ensure we are on the path to achieving goal eight (8) “Decent work and Economic Growth”, goal ten (10) “Reducing Inequalities” and goal one (1) “no poverty”. These are part of the International Sustainable Development Goals.
Mr. Speaker, the department is looking to ensure violators of our laws are punished and good corporate citizenship is recognized and rewarded. The Department has started to work on ratification of key International Labour Organization (ILO), labour standards which will go a long way in holding us accountable while ensuring that our labour laws are in line with international standards.
Mr. Speaker, the COVID-19 pandemic has also helped to prioritize the need for well-defined health and safety laws and procedures that will help to protect all workers here in the TCI. The Department will work with all sectors through the Chamber of Commerce to assemble a working group that will help to draft regulations that will ensure the viable of the private and public sector here in the TCI. In order for these laws to be effective stakeholder buy-in would be key, and the working group will show that the government is fulfilling its obligation to properly engage the public in creation of laws and policies.
Mr. Speaker, I now turn my attention to the Good People of Wheeland, Northwest Central and West Caicos to whom I represent. Mr. Speaker, over the years, these innocent families had to endure the smoke from the dump site and the coal burning. Mr. Speaker, let me take this opportunity to say, this too, will soon be a thing of the pass. The Environmental Health Department, under the Ministry of Health has published an Invitation to Tender for the management of the dump sites in both Grand Turk and Providenciales. Mr. Speaker, due to COVID-19, the closing date for submission of proposals has been extended May 13th 2020.
Mr. Speaker, this year my people will see more community signs, my people will enjoy the long awaited boat ramp, and the community will continue to enjoy the cleanliness of their environment as monthly street cleaning will continue. Mr. Speaker, the Liney Avenue has been paved and beautified. My people will see more road paving within their community for Moses Avenue, Community fellowship and Sharper Ave.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I end where I began. I stand firm on my Government’s Motto which firmly states, “freedom, equality and justice for all”. Mr. Speaker, as we go through this COVID-19 pandemic, we are all embracing this Motto as we are being led by the Ministry of Health, our Premier, Minister of Finance and His Excellency the Governor and I wish to applaud them for all of their accomplishments and hard work. I also applaud the citizens of these islands and encourage us to heed to all instructions given and remain safe.
Mr. Speaker, I must commend my follow Ministers for their continued hard work. Mr. Speaker, we have faced more than any Government has ever hard to endure. Mr. Speaker, we became the government in 2016 and went through two major storms and through our hard work and determination, we were able to restore the economy in record time. Mr. Speaker, due to the failures of the past administration, we were face with strikes for poor working conditions and being Government of the People and by the People, we made it our priority to address these issues. Now Mr. Speaker, we are face with COVID-19 pandemic, and I must congratulate my fellow Minister of Health on the work that he and his team are continuously doing to protect our people. I have great confidence Mr. Speaker, that the Turks and Caicos will too overcome yet another crisis.
Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the citizens of this Country that this era of social distancing will come to an end. My brothers and sisters of the Church, this too shall pass! Mr. Speaker, we will be with our friends and families again! My young people we will enjoy social events again! Mr. Speaker, these islands will again be the envy of the region.
Mr. Speaker, I give thanks to Almighty God; to you, my people, especially my Constituents of Wheeland for their continued support and we look forward for a triumphant future. May God continue to bless and prosper these beautiful by nature Turks and Caicos Islands, and keep us all safe during this time.
Hon. Vaden Delroy Williams
Minister of Immigration, Citizenship, Labour and Employment Services
April 21st, 2020