Governor’s wishes for 2009

A very Happy New Year to all your readers!

I would like to respond to your recent editorials which focus on the Metropolitan Police investigation. This important issue needs to be put in the context of what I have been trying to achieve in this country since I arrived in 2005.

My first Throne Speech set out four personal priorities: planning for disasters; constitutional modernisation; an efficient and effective public service; and law and order.

I arrived barely a year after Hurricane Ivan. I was determined to ensure that we learned the lessons of Ivan and were even better prepared for disasters. For this reason I established a high level committee including the Leader of Government Business and the Leader of the Opposition, and tried to involve more closely the business and voluntary sectors. I believe that this work has stood us well. Our response to Gustav and to Paloma was confident and effective. But we must not become complacent, particularly about climate change.

My second priority was constitutional modernisation. My role in these talks is limited. They are formally between the Cayman Islands and the British Government. But as someone who has a close affection for both countries, I hope for a successful outcome. A modern and effective relationship is needed, which serves both countries.

Everybody knows that I am committed to good governance, to high standards in the public service, and that I will not shy away from tackling inappropriate behaviour wherever it occurs. My aim is not just to sort out individual problems but to learn from them and improve the way we do things. It is all about better service to the public. So I have been keen to promote the initiatives of the Chief Secretary and Portfolio of the Civil Service to improve management and training throughout the public service, including for members of statutory boards.

To ensure good service and accountability I have pressed for better complaints procedures in government and in the police. I commend the work of the offices of the Auditor General and Complaints Commissioner, and I welcome the introduction of Freedom of Information.

Perhaps my commitment to rewarding good practice is less well documented. But it is equally strong – that is why I established annual awards to recognise our many good civil servants.

What has all this to do with the Metropolitan Police Investigation? Let me refer back to something else I said in that first Throne Speech – adequate results will come only after sustained effort.

The intense interest in the investigation doesn’t surprise me – it is a healthy sign of the media doing their job: questioning government policy. But some of the discussions in the media can obscure the basic principles that are at stake.

Once serious and credible accusations have been made – not just gossip – I cannot simply ignore them. Feedback from the public leads me to believe that many people in the Cayman Islands don’t want me to sweep complaints and allegations under the carpet. To do so would be the most damaging action I could possibly take for Cayman’s reputation. Once these investigations are over, the world will think more of Cayman, because we have had the courage to insist on the highest levels of probity in our police service. If allegations are disproved that is as good an outcome – indeed maybe a more reassuring one – than sackings or prosecutions.

I have listened very closely to the public debate on the cost of the investigations and the length of time they are taking. We will continue to look very closely at the costs. It is not easy to put active investigations on a definite timetable anywhere in the world. The police cannot simply ignore any new allegations because they arise at an inconvenient time.

While I accept ultimate responsibility for the police, I cannot and should not interfere in their operational decisions, nor should politicians. We should leave those decisions to the police under the capable interim leadership of Acting Commissioner Smith and to the Legal Department.

With the support of Cabinet and the Legislative Assembly, we are pressing ahead to create a more effective police force, through the strengthened marine service, a greater emphasis on community policing and reductions in overall crime.

But the police are only part of the solution.

Since my arrival we have seen many other positive changes that will, over time, improve law and order. We have done a lot to modernise the prisons, the courts and parole and probation arrangements – with a greater emphasis on protecting the public by reducing re-offending. We have a promising new drugs court and plans to use more non-custodial sentences. I have recruited an impressive line-up of Court of Appeal judges. Work is ongoing on new police and traffic laws. I would like to see the establishment of an independent police complaints commission, a Judicial Appointments Commission, and a code of conduct for the judiciary – although these are dependent on new legislation or progress in the constitutional talks.

Key to the success of this considerable activity is a joined up effort of all of government and the wider community. This year I want to see more work on a criminal justice strategy, including a greater emphasis on tackling the causes of crime. This week’s terrible shooting is a clear sign of the need to persist with our efforts.

In particular, we must all work together to address the problems of some of our youth, something that as a country we have neglected for too long.

In short, I have as much to do in my final year as Governor as I had in my first year. I hope that people will let me know their opinions, not just on the investigations, but on all of my priorities. It has always been important to me to listen, learn and understand what people on these Islands want.

Governor Stuart Jack