Gov: Public standards bill ready, waiting

A bill that would give the Cayman Islands public standards commission the power to actively police ethics and public interest reporting requirements within the government has been stuck in legislative limbo, Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor said.

However, Mr. Taylor said Thursday he was hopeful that situation would change, stating he was encouraged by the newly elected government’s commitment to “take forward some of the key tools” for good governance in the islands.

“A key plank which the government is also committed to bringing is the enabling legislation for the Commission for Standards in Public Life,” he said. “That legislation has actually been drafted for quite a while, but it hasn’t made it through Cabinet and it hasn’t made it to the Legislative Assembly yet.

“The new government seems to be committed to bring it forward and bring it forward soon. To me, getting the legislation in would be a priority.”

Since the governor – who will depart Cayman next week – first arrived in the islands, the lack of enabling legislation for the public standards commission has persisted.

The difficulty in establishing a commission aimed at policing public standards that subsequently had to ask the lawmakers it was supposed to be monitoring for the power to do its job was noted by Commission for Standards in Public Life Chairwoman Karin Thompson in early 2010.

By July 2010, Mrs. Thompson and her commission members had identified several areas where local laws needed to be improved to assist her group in its efforts.

Those improvements include the appointment of individuals to Cayman’s various public authorities, boards and committees; of which there are now well more than 100.

“There are those who view most appointments to those as political in nature,” Mrs. Thompson said at the time, adding that 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”.

Another area of the law the commission reviewed was “appropriate sanctions” for public officials who don’t uphold the proper standards. For instance, Mrs. Thompson noted that there is a civil servants code of conduct in place now, but punishment for offences of maladministration or corruption in which certain office holders engaged has not always been clearly defined.

“[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,” Mrs. Thompson.

Over the past three years since Mrs. Thompson made those comments – repeated several times in public forums since – little has changed in those key areas of public standards and ethics. Mr. Taylor said he knows Mrs. Thompson, who has done quite a bit of work on the subject, is getting frustrated.

“The Commission for Standards in Public Life has … a very wide remit and covers a whole range of really quite critical areas for the good governance of the Cayman Islands, including procurement, including the way in which people are appointed to statutory authority and government company boards, including a new register of interests law, setting standards for the behaviour of public servants and so on,” Mr. Taylor said Thursday. “It’s a pretty challenging agenda they have actually.”

Mr. Taylor said he believed, particularly following the May 2013 general election, that people in Cayman are strongly in support of good governance initiatives.

“It seems to me that it was a key theme in this election,” he said. “If I’ve sort of moved the bar up a bit on good governance and moved that agenda forward, then I think that’s a positive for me to take away.”

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