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Sep 14, 2017

Did Cabinet Have Authority to Direct Policy on Document Checks?

Diana Locke

The Immigration Department has a backlog of files for persons seeking renewal of their immigration documents, mostly passports.  But in the case where the files are missing, or the source documents appear suspicious, the applications have been on hold. This is despite separate Cabinet directives issued in 2014 to predecessor Maria Marin and again in 2016, asking that if the person applying has had the documents for at least five years, the Department should go ahead and process after a fourteen-day delay. But does Cabinet even have the authority to make such declarations? Director Locke contended to the Committee that neither she, nor Cabinet, in the spirit of the Auditor General’s Report, should be allowed to ignore potential issues if the result is inconvenience. Here is how she put it.

 

Diana Locke, Director of Immigration

“In the absence of a file, I can’t just doubt that the person did not receive this legitimately. I could be an error on the part of the department where things have been misplaced, have been lost, have been sent off for whatever reason, whether to the ministry, or to the police, and has not been returned. So, we can’t just assume that the person is illegal, or has obtained the documents fraudulently. We have to go through a process.”

 

Mark Lizarraga, Senator, Business Community

“But, that is not what this directive is saying.”

 

Diana Locke

“No, it’s not what it’s saying, but we have – after reading the book – we try our best, without causing inconvenience to persons. And if we do find – I am certain that Cabinet does not intend for me to ignore the obvious and continue along. So, while that directive has been given, and we try to facilitate as best as we can, when things don’t add up, then we have to stop, and we have to do further checks. I’m sure it’s not Cabinet’s intention that we just ignore what’s wrong.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, P.U.P. Senator

“But clearly it is.”

 

Diana Locke

“Well, unfortunately…”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“No, but what I’m saying to you, Madam Director –  this document, this decision from Cabinet is clearly saying, do not hold up an application for more than two weeks, if you can’t find the file. The person [has] a passport for more than five years. You can’t find the file, process it.”

 

Diana Locke

“Since we’ve been doing what I explained to you, I have gotten no directive that I should do otherwise.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“I am asking you what this document is saying. Isn’t that what this document is, in effect saying?”

 

Diana Locke

“If you take it literally on its face, yes.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Yes. You are giving us assurances that you are going beyond what is here.”

 

Diana Locke

“That is correct.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Cabinet has no authority or power to direct you on how to deal with these matters – do you agree?”

 

Diana Locke

“I would prefer to take legal advice on that.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Right. Now this directive or this letter by Minister Hulse to Ms. Marin – would you agree with me that it is unusual for the Cabinet to be becoming involved in which immigration passport file is to be processed and which is not? And suspending – for example it goes on, ‘in the case of persons who only have copies of their nationality certificate and not the original and no passport, further investigation is required. Cabinet has not decided how these are to be handled. What business does Cabinet have in that?”

 

Diana Locke

“I’m not sure. I do know in all of my twenty-nine years of service, when the Cabinet gives a directive, obviously it has been consulted with the law, I would assume, and the directives are carried out.”

 

In the case of the 2014 document, Locke told the Committee that she is not sure what information Cabinet had informing them on their decision at that time, and that since then and in the context of the Auditor General’s Report, the Department painstakingly checks what it has on hand to ensure proper vetting of applications. The Minister does have power over nationality under the law, but passports and visas are left as a matter of policy to the Director. Locke also conveyed a request that the Committee make a statement on what could be done to better inform the Department.

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