In the Cayman Islands the relatively innocuous phrase good governance has become politically charged and is the nexus of a high-profile dispute between top local government officials and United Kingdom authorities.
Meanwhile, the body created by the Cayman Islands Constitution with overseeing good governance policies is still drifting in limbo as it waits for the Legislative Assembly to empower it to fulfil its duties.
Bush v UK
Particularly in relation to the proposed cruise berthing facility in George Town, the UK’s demand that Cayman adhere to transparent procurement processes has delayed a potential agreement with China Harbour Engineering Company, and soured relations between Premier McKeeva Bush and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
In March, Mr. Bush told a group of supporters during a public meeting in East End, “We can’t move on it because they’re going to take their time to see whether we’re getting value for money.”
“Good governance they call it. [It’s] the same thing I’m having to go through with the dock. They’re holding up business; bureaucracy does that.
“These are the kinds of what they call good governance that we have to put up with,” he said.
In response, a representative of Governor Duncan Taylor’s office released the following statement, “The governor has a constitutional mandate to promote good governance.”
Indeed, according to the 2009 Cayman Islands Constitution, “the Governor shall endeavour to promote good governance and to act in the best interests of the Cayman Islands so far as such interests are consistent with the interests of the United Kingdom.”
Mr. Taylor’s office has clarified that the UK does not oppose Cayman negotiating with a Chinese company, per se, but that UK officials are concerned with the way negotiations have been conducted between the Cayman government and China Harbour.
Subsequent developments have not ushered in a new era of good feelings between Mr. Bush and Mr. Taylor. In late April, police confirmed that Mr. Bush was involved in three investigations, two involving real estate deals and one involving the importation of dynamite. Going back for more than two years, police have been looking into alleged financial irregularities in a 2004 land deal involving Mr. Bush and American developer Stan Thomas.
In May, Mr. Bush shared information on the transaction with the Caymanian Compass, saying he assisted Mr. Thomas in purchasing properties and Mr. Thomas’ intent was to create a large resort development called Poseidon, to be anchored by a Four Seasons Hotel. Mr. Bush confirmed that he sent bills to Mr. Thomas in the amount of US$750,000 for his services, and managed to collect US$375,000 – including a US$20,000 cash deposit given by Mr. Thomas to Mr. Bush while they were in Las Vegas.
Mr. Bush responded to the news of the investigations by defending his conduct, blasting the FCO and stating he has no intention of resigning. That sparked responses from the Governor, who said claims his office was working against the Cayman Islands were “completely without foundation”. The Opposition Party boycotted a session of the Legislative Assembly and held a ‘shadow Parliament’ in Heroes Square in protest.
In response to a Parliamentary question, Lord Howell of Guildford, a conservative minister of state at the FCO in the House of Lords, backed the Governor, saying “there is no truth whatsoever” to Mr. Bush’s suggestions.
Without a doubt, the UK has seen its fair share of corruption and dearth of good governance within its own public bodies.
The primary organisation charged with overseeing officials is the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The committee’s purview is “To examine current concerns about standards of conduct of all holders of public office, including arrangements relating to financial and commercial activities, and make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements, which might be required to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life and to review issues in relation to the funding of political parties, and to make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements”.
According to the committee’s 2011 annual report, “High ethical standards do not just happen. They require leadership and the development of a strong ethical culture in which people understand what is expected of them. Overwhelmingly, the scandals we have seen in recent years could have been prevented. People within dysfunctional organisations were aware of problems and if they had acted earlier could have prevented the otherwise inevitable loss of public trust.”
In addition to conducting formal inquiries, the committee tracks public perception of standards of conduct by public office holders. According to its most recent biennial survey, conducted in 2010 and released in September 2011, the UK public’s attitude toward its public office holders is at a low point since the surveys began in 2004.
In 2004, 46 per cent of respondents rated standards as ‘high’, compared to 11 per cent who said they were ‘low’. In 2010, 33 per cent said standards were ‘high’ and 23 per cent said they were ‘low’.
According to the 2010 survey, judges and senior police officers ranked as the most trusted professions, in terms of being expected to tell the truth. Overall, 80 per cent said judges could be trusted to tell the truth and 73 per cent said senior police officers could be trusted to tell the truth.
The least trusted professions were tabloid journalists (16 per cent), members of parliament (26 per cent) and government ministers (26 per cent). “Your local MP” fared better, with 40 per cent saying they could trust them to tell the truth. Additionally, 41 per cent said they could trust broadsheet journalists to tell the truth, and 58 per cent said they could trust TV news journalists.
Similar to the UK committee, the Cayman Constitution authorised the creation of a local Commission for Standards in Public Life. The commission has been regularly meeting and filing reports since February 2010, but is frustrated that local legislators have not yet passed legislation enabling the body to carry out its work fully.
Two of the commission’s objectives have been to explore the government’s tendering and contracting processes (which have drawn fire from the UK) and to maintain a register of interests of public officials to prevent conflicts of interest and corruption.
In a report presented to the Legislative Assembly in fall 2011, the commission stated, “The lack of the requisite enabling legislation also renders the additional responsibilities of the commission under section 117 of the Constitution meaningless.
According to the report, “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.”