Two issues have recently dominated the media in Cayman: the constitution and the pressures facing our financial industry. A third is creeping up on us: the general elections in May. All three in different ways are about good governance.
What is good governance? Briefly, it means running the country well. It involves the rule of law, transparency and accountability, responsiveness, equity and inclusiveness, participation, effectiveness and efficiency. All these buzz words are explained in a paper that chief ministers of the UK’s Overseas Territories, including our Leader of Government Business, accepted at their annual meeting with British ministers – it is available on the Governor’s Office website (www.ukincayman.fco.gov.uk).
Why is it so relevant to today’s big issues?
The debate on the new draft constitution has been almost exclusively about the human rights chapter. That is understandable – it is a major new feature and the text does not totally satisfy many people. But imperfect though it might be, I believe that chapter should be acceptable to both those who advocate human rights and those concerned about Caymanian values. The text agreed in London introduces greater protection, for example in respect of the police and courts. That means better governance.
But the proposed new constitution is about a lot more. Reservations about one section of the human rights chapter should not be a reason to reject the new constitution as a whole. There is much else in the draft that improves governance – that increases democracy while strengthening checks and balances, including on the UK and the Governor. Look at the proposed new Commission on Standards in Public Life, National Security Council, Judicial and Legal Services Commission, Human Rights and Constitutional Commissions. An important new feature of these bodies has been largely ignored in the public debate: they will include non-political members of the public and not just politicians and officials. There will be wider participation in governing these islands and hopefully a more inclusive, national approach.
As I argued in a recent speech to the Chamber of Commerce the way Cayman’s financial services industry is going to survive and hopefully in time benefit from the current global turmoil is by demonstrating that this is a reputable, quality jurisdiction. I believe it is, but we do not always get that across clearly enough.
We need to be seen as part of the solution, not the problem. Cayman needs to embrace the changing world of international finance, including the inevitability of greater regulation and transparency, rather than complain about it. Again this is all about good governance, including a close and frank dialogue between the industry and government.
I am looking forward to clean and well-run elections in May. I urge electors to educate themselves on what the candidates bring to the table – these are challenging times, and you need representatives with long term vision willing to implement meaningful national initiatives. To the candidates: You have the awesome responsibility to see the bigger picture, to be responsive to the concerns of people and business, to provide leadership, and to take difficult decisions, while at the same time ensuring that your actions are transparent and accountable; because ultimately that is what good governance is all about.
Generally we already have high standards in the Cayman Islands, though people may not always believe it. We have for example a non-political and ethical civil service and of course newspapers and talk shows that keep government – and the Governor – on our toes.
There is always scope for improvement. A lot has happened in recent years in the direction of better governance and more initiatives are under way. This includes Freedom of Information; a tough Anti-Corruption Law to take effect in January that everyone in public life and in business should study carefully; several enquiries and efforts to learn lessons and improve systems, including the difficult ones involving the police; training for civil servants and members of statutory boards; better complaints procedures but also more recognition of good public service; and hopefully soon stronger checks and balances in a new constitution.
Perhaps we should also look at other areas, for example greater transparency of political funding that would give greater confidence that politicians take decisions for the right reasons.
So let us all – politicians and public servants, businessmen and media, civil society and electors – embrace good governance to ensure a future for these islands that we can all be proud of. I will certainly continue to play my part.
Governor Stuart Jack