Governor Duncan Taylor began a recent ‘roundtable’ discussion/news conference with the Cayman Islands press corps in an unusual way.
1. He started by making fun of himself
2. He then admitted in a roundabout way that he might not have been quite ready to take this job.
“I’m especially pleased to see you,” Taylor deadpanned to the press, “as the last press conference I gave had no media in it at all. So, it’s quite nice to see some people here today.”
The governor was referring to plans to host a press conference in November which fell through when the media were – through a communications mishap – not invited.
He then went on to discuss his shortcomings.
“It’s quite an unusual thing for a diplomat to arrive and take up a job as governor, because there’s no real sort of preparation for that in the sense that I’m likely to have served as a deputy governor or in any other capacity in a governor’s office.”
Taylor says he was “well briefed” by the UK foreign office, but that coming in as Cayman’s governor in mid-January 2010 was like “jumping into the deep end”.
Governor Taylor is often seen out in the community doing the things that Cayman Islands governors do; attending social functions and fundraisers, participating in community events and posing for photographs.
But the serious work of Cayman’s appointed leader quite often gets done behind the scenes, and Taylor says there has been some good progress between his office and members of the local government. Namely, local officials and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office aren’t typically at one another’s throats these days.
“At that time [January 2010 – when he took office], you’ll recall that the relationship between the Cayman Islands and the UK government was…I would describe it as a little tetchy,” he says.
“I don’t think there was a fundamental problem…I think looking back over the past year that’s one area where we can look and say ‘I’m very pleased with the state of the relationship. It seems to me it’s in a very positive place at the moment.”
Late 2009 saw Cayman swimming in the wreckage of a failed police corruption investigation and allegations from the local government that then-Governor Stuart Jack did not have the country’s best interests at heart.
Moreover, local lawmakers and the then-ruling UK Labour Party were not necessarily seeing eye-to-eye on a number of issues, including how Cayman’s budget should be balanced.
Enter the UK”s former High Commissioner for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.
“The governor’s office is much more about teamwork…than I had imagined when I arrived,” Taylor says.
“The Constitution clearly sets out that the governor is responsible for certain areas of policy – notably security and crime policy – and the local elected government has responsibility for other areas.”
“My experience over the first year…is that’s what the Constitution says, but in practice, there’s great overlap.
I think there are very few areas where someone could say ‘this is done exclusively by the local government or by the governor.
As an illustration of that, as I look at areas of security and policing….in practice I couldn’t possibly carry out that function or have the police to operate effectively unless we work very closely with the elected government.
The government has to set the budget, people that are concerned about crime will quite naturally want to talk to their representatives about it.”
Local crime is an area where there is more local government involvement than ever; the 2009 Constitution gives government and opposition members a seat on the National Security Council – the advisory body created by the Constitution which sets crime policy for the country.
The governor leads it.
Taylor says that group has just completed work on a national crime prevention strategy for Cayman which is to be reviewed by Cabinet members in the coming weeks.
But he says, in reality, local government has had quite a bit of input on it already.
“There are [crime prevention] programmes under the supervision of every minister in Cabinet; education programmes, there are programmes run by the sport and youth minister, by the minister of community affairs and housing, by the premier,’ he says.
“It’s very much an issue of teamwork.”
Crime is likely to be a work in progress for some time, Taylor says.
“I don’t think there’s any easy way to turn the clock back to the time when crime was almost unheard of in the Cayman Islands,” he says.
But the cooperation on the issue has been a positive step for the Cayman Islands, and over the course of the year Taylor says he’s noticed a marked change in the political rhetoric towards the UK.
“There’s a sense on both sides that it’s a very positive relationship, a very friendly relationship,” he says.
The dial-down of the political grandstanding has come at a time when the United Kingdom is able to exert more pressure and influence than it ever has over the Cayman Islands’ government budget.
Running afoul of at least three major principles of responsible financial management contained in its financial management laws, the local government must now seek UK approval for further borrowing.
However, Governor Taylor says recent developments seem to indicate Cayman’s budget situation is improving. Government ended the halfway point of its financial year in December with an $18 million operating surplus, according to the Premier.
And Taylor says he’s hoping that surplus will be sustained through to the end of June.
Part of the budget improvements came through a reduction in what Cayman is spending to operate its public service, Taylor says.
That includes a 3.2 per cent across-the-board pay cut, as well as a “soft” hiring freeze which has left many government positions unfilled.
Overall, civil service personnel costs have decreased from $250 million in 2008 to below $220 million in 2010.
“That’s actually quite an achievement,” Taylor says.