The harsh rhetoric and angry words that have so often characterized the relationship between Cayman Islands lawmakers and the United Kingdom’s territorial representative over the past decade evaporated on Friday as new Governor Helen Kilpatrick was sworn in and welcomed with open arms.
Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin said Friday that he considered Ms Kilpatrick’s arrival on his birthday and upon the newly elected government’s 100th day in office to be a “good omen” for the territory.
Although the working relationship had improved during the last several months of former Governor Duncan Taylor’s term, memories of former Premier McKeeva Bush telling Mr. Taylor to go “sun his buns” on the beach, or even the members of the previous People’s Progressive Movement government declining to attend the departure ceremony for former Governor Stuart Jack, were not hard to recall.
However, many Caymanians and residents seemed hopeful that Ms Kilpatrick, Cayman’s first female governor, would usher in a different era.
“This is wonderful,” said West Bay resident Eziethamae Bodden. “I look forward to meeting her and her service here. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
“As the mother of a young girl, it’s great to see we can do anything we set our minds to,” said civil service chief officer Jennifer Ahearn.
In accepting the nomination to the governor’s post Friday, Ms Kilpatrick, who has never served in a post with the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office – much less in the Caribbean – said she realized she has a lot to learn.
“As a priority, I need to get to know the people of the Cayman Islands to find out what they aspire to and what causes them concern,” Ms Kilpatrick said. “I want to get around to all the districts, including the Sister Islands, as soon as possible.”
Borrowing from British Prime Minister David Cameron, Ms Kilpatrick said she wished to see overseas territories communities “flourish in partnership, with strong and sustainable local economies.” She went on to state that she intended to govern “with a light touch,” only becoming more involved if “things go awry.”
Things haven’t gone quite right for Cayman since the global financial markets collapsed in late 2008, spawning higher unemployment than the territory has seen in recent decades and leading to numerous attacks on Cayman’s financial services industry.
Ms Kilpatrick said she welcomes the commitments Cayman made at the recent Group of Eight countries meeting in London to boost transparency in its financial services sector and added she felt Cayman’s true story wasn’t quite understood properly.
“I look forward to helping drive forward the global reputation of Cayman to one of a dynamic, well-regulated financial services center,” she said.
The new governor also pledged not to overlook local concerns, citing a worry over “recent robberies and burglaries” among residents. Indeed, a man was shot near Frank Sound over the weekend in what initially appeared to be a robbery within 24 hours of the governor’s arrival.
“I aim to maintain the focus on this critical area,” she said.
In addition to crime and economic issues, Ms Kilpatrick made clear that she intended to focus on preserving Cayman’s natural environment, noting that Cayman is now home to 25 endemic species of plants and reptiles as well as more than 200 bird species.
The governor said she was committed “to ensure that these assets are managed and protected in a manger that befits their incredible value.”
In a new twist on tradition, boy scout Juan Pablo Valerio, 9, presented the governor with a basket of local fruits to welcome her to the Cayman Islands upon her arrival Friday at Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman.
“I’m very excited,” Juan said. “I can’t believe I’m the first boy scout to ever present something to a female governor of Cayman.”
Winston Hayle, executive commissioner for the Scout Association of the Cayman Islands, said that the governor is traditionally invited to the post of chief scout.
“For the very first time we’re having a female governor and that makes an interesting situation,” he said. “Hopefully, she will be agreeable to wearing a uniform because the position is a uniformed position.”
In past appointments, the governor’s wife has typically been invited to represent the girl guides. Cayman’s previous 11 governors, from Athelstan Long to Duncan Taylor, have all been men.
“We share the same founder, so over the years the governor’s wife has always served as president of the Girl Guide Association,” Mr. Hayle explained, suggesting that there is a possibility Ms Kilpatrick might be able to lead both organizations.
Ms Kilpatrick said Friday that her nomination as the first female governor of the Cayman Islands is something she’s particularly proud of. As part of that legacy, she said she would support extending the U.N. convention to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women to the Cayman Islands.
“My vision is that all Caymanians and residents have the opportunity to take a leading role in shaping our future,” she said.