Public standards commission remains a ‘toothless’ tool

A commission formed under Cayman’s 2009 Constitution that is supposed to review and police standards for public servants remains bereft of the enabling legislation it needs to fully carry out its work, nearly two years after being created.  

In a report recently presented to the Legislative Assembly, the Commission for Standard in Public Life noted that section 117 of the Constitution envisioned a statutory framework to support the commission in promoting “the highest standards of integrity and competence in public life and to prevent conflicts of interests or corruption by all employed in public service”.  

“The lack of the requisite enabling legislation also renders the additional responsibilities of the commission under section 117 of the Constitution meaningless,” the commission reported. “In so far as it relates to the commission’s ability to validate powers of compliance monitoring for standards … and investigations of potential breaches. 

“Furthermore, the commission is of the view that the lack of supporting and enforceable legislation will render its mandate to maintain a register of interests a hollow exercise without the necessary sanctions in respect to those persons who may fail to comply.”  

Commission chairperson Karin Thompson raised the issue more than a year ago during an interview with the Caymanian Compass.  

The first change that needs to occur, Mrs. Thompson said at the time, is in the area of information contained in public interest registers. She said these would need to be expanded greatly if the Commission for Standards in Public Life is to do its job.  

According to Mrs. Thompson, that register is now limited to only elected members of the Legislative Assembly, the former official members of the LA, and journalists.  

“That law (referring to the Register of Interests Law, 1996) … will not give us the power that is required by the Constitution,” she said. “Clearly, my commission is not interested in the activities of the journalist. I’m concerned with the activities of the public servants. That is a classic example of the commission being charged with carrying out a function that we simply, by law are incapable of carrying out.”  

Other potential problem areas identified include the appointment of individuals to Cayman’s various public authorities, boards and committees; of which there are more than 100.  

“There are those who view most appointments to those as political in nature,” Mrs. Thompson said, adding the commission felt there was the possibility of establishing better guidelines regarding the appointment of board members “with a view to avoiding this perception of corruption, of a conflict of interest”.  

A third area of the law the commission has reviewed, includes a look at “appropriate sanctions” for public officials who don’t uphold the proper standards.  

For instance, Mrs. Thompson noted there is a civil servants code of conduct in place now, but punishment for offences of maladministration or corruption engaged in by certain office holders has not always been clearly defined.  

“That’s where I find there is need,” she said. “(Civil servants) can be fired or perhaps suspended for a limited period of time, but if you’re, for example, a member of the Legislative Assembly, you’re not going to be fired from your job. We cannot simply rely on codes of conduct … we have to go beyond that, and this is an area that will no doubt prove to be controversial.” 

 

Laws coming  

The commission’s report indicates it is now in the final stages of drafting a Standards in Public Life Bill that includes the changes its members would like to see.  

The draft bill is expected to be submitted to the government within the next quarter.  

There was no word on when a final bill might come before the legislature for a vote. 

Karin Thompson

Mrs. Thompson
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1 COMMENT

  1. Well Mr. Governor, as the person responsible for good governance, are you going to do something to encourage the elected government to give effect to the Commission. The standards currently being applied leave much to be desired.

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