The Compass editorial board recently described our government’s Anti-Corruption Commission as “nothing short of ineffectual and irrelevant,” as we wondered why, in four years, only two people have been prosecuted in court under the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Law.
Well here’s why: There are only two officers in the Anti-Corruption Unit, which has the Augean labor of investigating allegations against law enforcement, politicians, civil servants, board members and other powerful public and quasi-public figures throughout government.
The apparently valiant duo have — despite piddling resources and woefully insufficient manpower to tackle numerous complex criminal accusations — fielded 106 complaints, including 23 investigations that are currently active. According to the Commissions Secretariat, the unit closed 77 investigations due to lack of evidence or other reasons, including not being able to pursue several cases where activities allegedly occurred before the Anti-Corruption Law took effect in 2010.
In five instances, Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards has refused to bring charges against suspects despite the officers submitting what they believed to be sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.
That includes allegations of conflicts of interest, solicitation of a bribe and breach of confidentiality.
To review: There are about 6,300 people employed in Cayman’s public sector, including central government, government-owned companies and statutory authorities; in addition to the hundreds of private individuals who sit on Cayman’s 130 elected boards and committees. The two officers tasked with ensuring those thousands of people adhere to the Anti-Corruption Law are, not surprisingly, completely overwhelmed. When they do manage to compile a case that is, in their opinion, strong enough to stand up in court, oftentimes they find their relay partners — Ms. Richards and her team of prosecutors — refusing to carry the cases any further.
People involved in Cayman’s financial services industry are well aware of how vital a jurisdiction’s reputation is to its attractiveness to outside investors. That’s why the government ministry, Cayman Islands Monetary Authority and private sector representatives spend so much energy, time and money promoting international agreements, publicizing transparency initiatives and propping up the image of Cayman as an advanced, enlightened and, above all, squeaky-clean financial center.
All of that public relations messaging will be in vain unless Cayman officials, and members of the local community, adopt a no-nonsense, no-excuses, zero-tolerance approach to rooting out public corruption, and bringing to an end the ubiquitous swirl of suspicions and allegations that nearly always remain unresolved.
Anyone who’s been paying attention has surely noticed signs of systemic corruption surfacing in Cayman, particularly where the public sector intersects with the private sector. Entities hounded by accusations of corruption include, to list a few, the Airports Authority, Electricity Regulatory Authority, Information and Communications Technology Authority, Liquor Licensing Board and the National Housing Development Trust — not to mention the clouds around the perennial paving of Cayman Brac.
Cayman’s relative freedom from corruption has been, historically, our country’s primary advantage over jurisdictions that have far larger populations and greater resources. The fundamental acknowledgement of, and adherence to, the rule of law is what separates successful countries such as Denmark, New Zealand and South Korea from failing (and failed) states such as Somalia, Haiti and North Korea.
As a country, Cayman is not sufficiently serious about its anti-corruption efforts. A country that winks at public corruption as a matter of course is courting its own downfall. A country that becomes known for corruption is not far from its economic demise.