Senior diplomat on memory lane trip

A
senior British diplomat is meeting government and civil service officials this
week to get updates on the state of security, disaster preparedness and the
environment in Cayman.

Head
of Caribbean and Bermuda Section of the Overseas Territories Directorate Tony
Bates, as well being on a fact-finding mission, is also on a trip down memory
lane in his visit to Cayman. He served as staff officer and assistant to two
governors in Cayman between 1993 and 1996.

As
head of Caribbean and Bermuda Section – a post he took up a year ago – Mr.
Bates’ job covers the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Montserrat, Anguilla and BVI.

During
his visit to Cayman, Mr. Bates had planned to meet McKeeva Bush but the premier
is in the UK on budgetary talks with the Foreign Office. Instead, he met with
Acting Premier Rolston Anglin.

He
also met Leader of the Opposition Kurt Tibbetts, Financial Secretary Kenneth
Jefferson, Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Chief Officer of the
Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs Franz Manderson and several other
officials.

Mr.
Bates said when it comes to financial issues involving Cayman; he leaves the
Foreign Office’s economic and financial issues team to deal with those. “I leave
them largely to deal with those issues, but I do maintain a contact and
awareness of what is going on here,” he said.

He
noted that Cayman, like many other countries and jurisdictions, is seeing
economic problems, adding: “Generally speaking, Cayman is going in the right
direction. It has developed a huge amount in the last few years, but I don’t
think there’s a country in the world that is not experiencing problems with the
economic downturn. Cayman is no exception to that, and the UK is in the same position
as well.”

He
also met with Police Commissioner David Baines on Monday and was scheduled to
attend a National Security Review meeting Tuesday.

On
security, Mr. Bates said; “It’s not my business to be get involved in operational
details, but we did note the commissioner’s initiative to request assistance
from 14 investigating officers from Warwickshire and West Midlands police. It
appears to have worked and it opened up some areas for cooperation.

“I
think that was a good model for some future cooperation, not just between
Cayman and UK, but possibly other territories as well,” he said.

The
14 officers spent a month in Cayman to help with serious crime cases and
returned to the UK last month.

During
his trip to Cayman, which ends Wednesday, he is also meeting with disaster
management officials from Hazard Management Cayman Islands, including its
director McCleary Frederick.

On
Wednesday, Mr. Bates, Mr. Frederick and Head of Governor’s Office Steve Moore
will travel to Miami to attend a two-day seminar where they will meet members
of the Royal Navy to talk about last-minute preparedness for hurricane season,
which began last week. HMS Manchester, the navy ship which will be patrolling
the Caribbean during hurricane season, is due to dock in Cayman next week.

Mr.
Bates said he was particularly interested in environmental issues in Cayman,
including how the Islands are dealing with the invasive lionfish, which he saw
first-hand while diving here on Sunday.

“On
the first dive, we saw one. On the second, we saw five and the dive masters
caught most of them. It is a real issue. I understand these things are quite prolific
in terms of breeding. It’s a good initiative for the dive operators to try to
catch them, but whether they’re just scraping the surface, I don’t know,” he
said.

Lionfish
are also being seen in Bermuda and BVI, Mr. Bates said, adding that his office
would be willing to work with islands in the region to combat the problem. “If
anybody comes up with ideas, and we can see some connections across the region
and try to pull them together so there are some economies of scale or some
common strategy for tackling these things, we will facilitate it… we can
provide assistance where it is needed.”

This
is his first trip back to Cayman since he left in 1996 and he admitted he
wasted no time getting in the water for a dive and going for a drive around the
island to see how it had changed in the nearly decade and a half since he left.

“I
went diving on Sunday morning and on the Sunday afternoon drove around the
Island to South Sound, Prospect, Spotts, North Side and Rum Point to see what
had changed in the 14 years since I’ve been away.

“In
terms of the far end of the Island, there seems to be very little obvious
change, it’s still very quiet and quaint. The big changes have been on West Bay
Road and Seven Mile Beach area. It’s amazing how much development there has
been. The bypass has made a big difference. I had to go round three successive
roundabouts twice each to make sure I was going in the right direction,” he
said.

He
left his position in Cayman in August 1996 but was invited by the then director
of Pirates’ Week, Mike Lockwood, to come back six weeks later for the 20th
anniversary of Pirates’ Week.

“I
have always wanted to come back. This job I have in London has provided me with
that opportunity. In that 14 years, I have always maintained an interest and
kept up with snippets of what has been happening here. I hoped I’d be able to
come back.

“The
three years I spent here were among the most enjoyable, satisfying and
challenging of my career in the Foreign Office – challenging in a good sense,
because generally in diplomats’ careers, you spend your three years in an embassy
or high commission reporting on what is happening locally, but here you’re
actually getting involved in solving real problems involving real people,” he
said.

Governor
Duncan Taylor and his wife Marie-Beatrice hosted a reception at Government
House on Monday evening for Mr. Bates, which was attended by about 100 guests,
many of whom were familiar faces to the visiting diplomat.

“I’m
absolutely delighted to be back and renewing some old friendships,” he said.