Cayman's loss: Nicola Williams moves on

Cayman Islands Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams is leaving her post to become ombudsman for the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces. Her high-profile appointment as U.K. Service Complaints Commissioner concludes an exemplary tenure of five-plus years here in Cayman.

She probably should have left after the first six months.

Don’t get us wrong: We’re distressed to see Ms. Williams go. Cayman is losing a woman of exceptional character, integrity and intellect — one of those people who should be cherished as a leader and promoted into a position of great influence; for there are far too few of them in this world.

We are pleased to see that the U.K. government recognizes her professional abilities. Her new post, no doubt, is a step (or three) up the proverbial career ladder.

Although we’ve had no complaints, so to speak, about Ms. Williams’ performance as complaints commissioner, we certainly share her concerns about the Cayman government’s reluctance to follow many of her most important recommendations, most notably the grossly inadequate response to shocking revelations about the private sector pension system.

Ms. Williams’s 2010 report on the subject (the first, and in our opinion, perhaps the finest, work of her tenure) showed that 670 local businesses were delinquent in paying their employee pensions. Following up on that, Ms. Williams showed that as of June 30, 2013, that number had grown to a total of 1,144 businesses — despite her office already having demonstrated the proliferation of the problem. Little real progress has been made on the issue since then, after being ensnared in the bureaucratic briar patch of the Department of Labour and Pensions.

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No wonder, then, if she’s fed up.

It seems to us that Ms. Williams was, in a word, “better” than the role she was given. The government’s punting on pensions should have been a clear signal to her that she was dealing with people who are not really serious about accountability and reform.

Unfortunately, the complaints commissioner — like the auditor general and information commissioner — simply do not possess the powers (such as prosecution, or the issuance of legally binding orders) required to compel meaningful reactions from our recalcitrant politicians and civil servants.

Yes, some have been able to help bring about incremental changes, chiefly through diligence and sheer force of will, but all told, there has been since the passage of the 2009 Constitution no dramatic metamorphosis in government’s expectations of civil servants, public financial accountability or transparency.

The deficiency is not with the people in those positions — We have the highest regard for Ms. Williams, Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick, his predecessor Dan Duguay, Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers and his predecessor Jennifer Dilbert — but rather, with the positions themselves.

These constitutionally created entities, in fact, are mostly advisory. They give the appearance of oversight and good governance but, in reality, the people who hold these positions cannot accomplish much of anything unless they have the support of a committed body politic – and too often they don’t.

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  1. Not easy for a foreigner to hold a position in Cayman with full support unless they are either constantly genuflecting before someone or have more money than the Government, or more money than Quaker have Oats; and as for the few Caymanians who dare to express their thoughts, is only short of a piece of rope to be taken to Town Square. I tell you we got some mean spirited people who should never hold the positions they have,