For at least the second time this year, both Premier McKeeva Bush and Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly were out of the Cayman Islands at the same time in October.
Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly was in Qatar for a postal union conference, according to the government.
The Caymanian Compass has contacted Mr. Bush’s office a number of times during the past two weeks seeking some clarification.
His press office responded on Wednesday morning as to Mr. Bush’s whereabouts.
“Premier McKeeva Bush is currently in Asia representing the Cayman Islands on a number of levels, from making representations to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer to promoting inward investment for the country,” a statement read. “In the current international economic environment, Asia is the land of expanding economies where investors are looking for new opportunities.
“During this extended trip to Asia the premier has attended the Commonwealth Finance Minister’s meeting and associated meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. He will also be pursuing business opportunities for the Cayman Islands elsewhere, including a visit to Hong Kong and the China Offshore Summit in Shanghai.”
The issue of the premier’s travels has become something of a political football in recent weeks as Mr. Bush headed to the United Kingdom, Denmark and Greenland for meetings with British Overseas Territories officials and later headed to Asia.
Premier Bush’s political opponents, the opposition People’s Progressive Movement party, on Tuesday issued a statement questioning how the business of the territory was getting done. “The Legislative Assembly cannot seem to be able to meet while the premier is away and so, the business of the country is not getting done,” the statement from the PPM Executive Committee read. “There is the failure to pass the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility into law within the timeline Mr. Bush agreed with the UK and to, so far, resolve the question as to what districts the additional MLA seats, as required by the constitution, will be assigned to in good time for the elections next year.”
The PPM executive questioned the usefulness and the cost of the travel being undertaken at a time when “we need all hands on deck” to resolve local challenges. The PPM political party is led by George Town MLA Alden McLaughlin and has as its chairman attorney Anton Duckworth.
“Every government must travel to conduct business,” Mr. Bush said. “Whether it’s a lot of travel or little, all depends on the business that has to be conducted. My travels and that of the deputy premier don’t normally overlap; however, this time it could not be avoided because of the nature of the meetings, hers for postal matters and mine for finance, both of which had agendas which were set by the international bodies, each in their very different but significant areas of responsibility.
“Cayman’s ability to do business in the global arena is positively affected by us being seen to effectively maintain our international good governance and regulatory obligations.”
Precisely what Premier Bush’s recent trips might cost Cayman isn’t clear yet. Regarding the trip to the UK, Denmark and Greenland earlier this fall, an open records response from the government stated that travelling costs may be minimal.
“The cost of the trip to the Cayman Islands government is undetermined at this time as the majority of expenses will be paid for by the European Union, which is currently being bill for through our UK office,” the response noted. “Once the reimbursement is received, we will be in a position to provide you with the exact cost associated with the trip.”
The open records request also sought to determine which Cayman representatives went on the trip to the UK, Copenhagen and Greenland with Premier Bush. They included the premier’s Chief of Staff Leonard Dilbert, senior political analyst Richard Parchment and Cayman Islands government Deputy Representative in the UK Charles Parchment.
A news release from the Premier’s Office last month indicated that Mr. Bush and other overseas territories leaders discussed, among other things, legal changes within European Union governing documents that could harm Cayman’s financial services industry.
Speaking to members of the European Commission during a meeting of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association in Greenland, Mr. Bush pressed for change to Article 70 of the draft Overseas Association Decision document of the European Union, which calls for convergence with EU legislation of the financial services regimes in the overseas jurisdictions with regard to supervision, transparency, tax information exchange and anti-money laundering.
This would require that the Cayman Islands bring its laws on financial services in line with EU legislation. Premier Bush has opposed this measure since it was initially introduced in the draft version of the document.
“The fact is that no major decision can occur while the leadership is away,” the PPM Executive statement issued Tuesday read. “Indeed, who is in charge?”
Mr. Bush denied such statements about lack of leadership.
“We work, and no constituent knows for the want of representation if and when we are off island,” the premier said. “The governor knows each and every time I’m off island (though under the new constitution I don’t need his permission to be off island) but I have advised him on every occasion of the place and purpose of my travels, so how in the world could the PPM tell another bold-faced lie that I’m ‘absent without leave’?”
Compass journalist Patrick Brendel contributed to this story.