Governor Duncan Taylor: A vision of partnership and cooperation

Governor Duncan Taylor, who became the eleventh appointed governor of the Cayman Islands on 20 January, knows he has to mend some fences.

His predecessor, Stuart Jack, came under sharp criticism from many legislators and members of the Cayman public for the decisions he made with relation to the ill-fated Operation Tempura. Jack brought in the UK Metropolitan police to – secretly for a time –investigate allegations of local police corruption. He later forced three senior police officers to go on required leave, two of whom haven’t returned.

Two years later, the investigation led to only two arrests and two trial acquittals, but had thrown the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service into disarray and cost taxpayers more than $10 million, with law suits still pending.

Although Jack staunchly denied it, some people thought his actions were part of a conspiracy with the United Kingdom to undermine the viability of the Cayman Islands financial services industry.

In that bleak backdrop, compounded by a global recession, severe government budget problems and increasing violent crime, Taylor began his governorship here.

Speaking with The Observer on Sunday recently, Taylor said one of his key objectives as governor was to try to promote a positive relationship between the UK and Cayman.  Moving on past Operation Tempura is a place to start.

“As far as I’m concerned, Operation Tempura is finished,” he said. “It all happened before I came out here. Obviously, I’m aware of some of what happened and know some of how it happened. I’m conscious that it’s soured the relationship. It’s clear that it’s had a significant impact, and a negative impact, on the relationship.”

Warm welcome
Despite the “rocky patch”, as he called it in his swearing in speech, Mr. Taylor also stated the day he was sworn in that he believed the relationship was still fundamentally sound.

So far, he’s seen little evidence of a relationship gone bad.

“One of the things we were really struck by, and remain struck by, is the very warm welcome we’ve received,” he said. “Right from the beginning, we’ve felt that we were welcomed by people and that’s been true of the government as well as the people I’ve met.”

Taylor said the warm welcome has helped him

“At the very beginning, it’s challenging to come into a situation where the people that I’m working with all know each other very well indeed, and in most cases since they were kids,” he said. “I come in and don’t know them or the relationships between them and that puts me in quite a challenging position in terms of what I want to achieve and how I get on with individuals that I’m working with. It’s a steep learning curve, but being made to feel welcomed by everyone I’ve come across has been very helpful.”

Even coming in after the turbulent tenure of Governor Jack, Taylor believes its normal that a new governor would “get a bit of a honeymoon period”.

“People want to see what the new governor and family are like and want to make up their own minds,” he said.  “I very much hope that it goes on the way it has started, and that’s with a good relationship. I think I have a good relationship with Cabinet. I have a good relationship with the key people I’m working with, the premier, the deputy premier, the deputy governor, the commissioner of police and the attorney general.”

But Taylor also knows every honeymoon ends.

“I’m not naive about some of the difficulties and some of the challenges there will be,” he said. “I’m quite conscious that we will have some tough discussions at times. By the very nature of the role of governor that’s inevitable at times, in the Cayman Islands and indeed in the other Overseas Territories.

“But I think if you can have a decent relationship and build a decent relationship that will help you get through those difficult times.”

Taylor said people can have heated arguments and discussions and still remain on very good terms.

“My aim would be that if and when we have some more difficult discussions, and we don’t really see eye-to-eye with local government, that we can at least handle those discussion in a civilised and professional manner.”

The key to a strong relationship is mutual respect, where issues are tackled with cooperation and partnership, Taylor said.

Perhaps the area that calls for a true cooperative partnership the most is internal security.

The previous People’s Progressive Movement government complained bitterly that while it was expected to approve funding for the police and other security measures, it had no say in – and in some cases little or no knowledge of – the delivery of security services in the Cayman Islands.

That will now change with the establishment of the National Security Council, a constitutionally derived body that includes government and opposition representation, as well as representation from civil society. The Council will, among other things, develop short, medium and long-term strategies to deal with various security risks from the perspective of all of Cayman’s enforcement agencies.

Taylor said he sees security as an issue of cooperation and partnership

“I think the National Security Council is a body that can certainly bring together the different interested parties,” he said.

In addition to its members, the council can invite other people to its meetings, including the media, if it so chooses.

However, the National Security Council remains an advisory body and the  buck stops with Taylor.

“I have to bear in mind that at the end of the day, security is a retained responsibility that lies with the governor,” he said. “It’s a very serious responsibility, obviously, and I take it extremely seriously.

“But the more I can ensure that our strategy and approach to security is agreed and worked upon in cooperation, not just with the local government, but with society, the better.”

Taylor noted that the police can only do so much when it comes to crime.

“They cannot do everything; they need help,” he said. “But also, there’s things they can’t do at all; that parents have to do with their children; that members of society have to do.”

When he speaks about the people of the Cayman Islands, Taylor said he is referring to everyone.

“I don’t really draw distinction between the different categories of people on the Islands,” he said.

The diversity of the Cayman Islands is something he said appeals to him.

“I think it’s fascinating to be in a community which has a lot of different nationalities,” he said. “I come from London; I spent five years in New York; I’ve been in environments which are dynamic and vibrant precisely because the populations are very diverse and they contribute to that vibrancy. I think that happens also in the Cayman Islands.”

Taylor has also noticed that the diversity in Cayman has led to animosities.

“One of the things that has probably surprised me a little bit here has been to see the friction, as reflected in the media and the blogs, between true Caymanians and others here in the Islands,” he said.

He understands, however, that during times of a poor economy, differences are brought out more because “everyone is feeling the pressure”.

Although he admits reading the blogs from time to time, he said he doesn’t take them too seriously.

“I read them cautiously in a sense because I don’t think they necessarily represent the views of a wide cross-section of society,” he said. “Nevertheless, I think there are some interesting remarks that come up there.”

One of the blogs he has read in the past was that written by former Governor Jack. Unlike Jack, however, Taylor said he has no plans to write a blog.

At 51 years of age, Taylor is the youngest governor ever in the Cayman Islands, but he doesn’t think his relatively youthful age reflects any change in strategy by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with respect to Cayman.

“It may reflect simply the fact that in the past 10 to 20 years, within the Foreign Office as a whole, the progression [to senior levels] has become more flexible and less predictable,” he said. “The Foreign Office used to be an organisation where you could sort of predict 20 years ahead what grade you were going to be at a certain time. It’s now become a bit more genuinely competitive and in some cases people move more slowly and in some cases slightly faster.”

Taylor said there’s also more flexibility in the appointment system.

“The Foreign Office will routinely appoint people that are in some cases much younger than me to senior positions,” he said.

As for his own appointment as governor, Taylor applied for the position.

“The way the Foreign Office appoints people is you have to bid for the job. If you don’t bid, they won’t consider you for the appointment. So I bid for the job.”

Taylor said he wanted to become governor of the Cayman Islands.

“I did some research. I spoke to the previous governor. I spoke to people back in London. I was here for just a weekend a couple of years ago,” he said. “I thought this was a nice place with friendly people and that it would be a really interesting job and a challenging job.

“I knew even when I bid for the job it was challenging and I think now I have a better understanding of just how challenging it is, not because the job has changed really, but because we’ve had difficult times.  The recession and financial crisis have made governing in the Cayman Islands more challenging for everyone involved in that.”