The chairwoman of the Commission for Standards in Public Life is calling on members of Cabinet to table the latest report from the group, which aims at making the Cayman Islands government more transparent and accountable to the public.
Not a public document
Formed under the Cayman Islands 2009 Constitution with the charge of reviewing and policing standards for public servants, the commission has a constitutional mandate to report to the Legislative Assembly at least every six months. However, the semi-annual report – the fourth from the commission – is not a public document until it is tabled in the Legislative Assembly.
“It is long overdue to the extent that it was submitted for tabling in mid-February,” commission chairwoman Karin Thompson said. “We are just about ready to submit the fifth report of the commission.”
Further, the commission’s stance is that its reports should be submitted directly to the Legislative Assembly, rather than first being brought to Cabinet. On that point, the commission has requested a legal opinion from the attorney general.
The constitution directs the commission “to report to the Legislative Assembly at regular intervals, and at least every six months”.
Ms Thompson said, “The view of the commission is there is no reason the report should not be tabled directly to the Legislative Assembly in accordance with the constitutional mandate, and not necessarily go through the various channels that result in delays.”
She said, “We hope that within a very short period, in time for the tabling of the fifth report in mid-August, we will have clarification on the procedure to be adopted in respect to the tabling of reports of not only this commission, but I would venture to say other commissions as well.”
No enabling legislation
Not only are lawmakers biding their time in tabling the commission’s regular report, but they haven’t yet considered legislation to empower the commission to perform its duties.
Ms Thompson said the commission’s work on the proposed legislation was completed about two months ago. “The draft legislation is now with the Legal Drafting Department, and we continue to call and remind the powers-that-be that there is a need for this legislation to allow the commission to fulfil its constitutional mandate,” she said.
Asked if the delay in passage of the enabling legislation may stem from public officials’ reluctance to give authority to an independent body who would have oversight over their own activities, Ms Thompson said, “I would certainly hope not. I do know matters of this nature do take some time.”
She said November’s implementation of the bill of rights, among other legislation, is probably keeping the Legal Drafting Department quite busy. She said she hopes to hear back from the department in the near future as to what sort of timeline the commission should expect.
Ms Thompson has repeatedly raised the issue of the commission’s need for enabling legislation since 2010.
Even though lawmakers haven’t made its last report public, nor have they passed the enabling legislation, the commission has nonetheless moved forward with reviewing the government’s procurement process.
“We have reached the stage where we’ve now convened a roundtable with various stakeholders following a memo that was sent by the deputy governor earlier this year to Cabinet,” Ms Thompson said.
Chaired by Ms Thompson, the roundtable includes Central Tenders Committee chair Nick Freeland and representatives from the commission, attorney general, ministry of finance, deputy governor, public works and the Cabinet Office. The auditor general is acting in an advisory role.
While the commission itself has spent the last 18 months dealing with the procurement process for central government, the roundtable is reviewing procurement for the entire public sector, including the civil service, statutory authorities and government-owned companies, with the view of implementing a new procurement framework tailored for Cayman. Ms Thompson said the group’s ambition is to provide a report by September.
“Certain matters can be dealt with without further delay. Preliminary measures can be taken now without needing a whole new framework,” she said.
Backing concerns expressed by Auditor General Alistair Swarbrick, Ms Thompson said there must be clear, specific and written terms of reference for how Central Tenders Committee members are appointed. She said members should sign confidentiality agreements and disclose all pecuniary and business interests. The commission’s third report, tabled in October 2011, suggested a timeline of three months to implement those changes.
“There really is no reason why those steps should have resulted in an inordinate delay,” she said.
The procurement process for major projects in Cayman has been a primary bone of contention between the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the local government. Ms Thompson said having the appropriate legislation in place would certainly have assisted the commission in addressing concerns that fall within its remit.