Eliminating 'speed bumps' in Cayman governance

In the increasingly high-velocity environment of global commerce, it is no longer the large who eat the small; it is the fast who eat the slow.

As for those who are neither large nor fast, well… let’s just say that the Cayman Islands – with a population of 55,000 and land mass of 100 square miles – cannot lag in the slow lane.

Which is why we have some reservations about a recent announcement from Cayman’s government in relation to U.K. and European-driven initiatives to create public, centralized databases containing beneficial ownership information for locally registered companies.

First, this Editorial Board supports the position taken on this issue by Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton and Premier Alden McLaughlin – namely, that Cayman will continue to adhere to international standards on accountability and transparency, but will definitely not be pushed into implementing potentially onerous (and expensive) new regulations ahead of our competitors, particularly the large G20 nations.

The government’s latest declarative underlines, and refines, that position, stating that lawmakers plan to approve new legislation to speed up the current process for responding to information requests and to require corporate service providers to provide annual ownership information to the General Registry.

On their face, those moves seem practical and, according to government, were aided by feedback provided by respondents to a government survey of companies, individuals and groups. It is prudent, and commonplace, for any organization, in the public or private sector, to listen to the opinions of practitioners in a given field or to bring in outside “experts,” such as academicians, because of their informed perspective.

However, in this instance, – and this is where our eyebrows start to ascend – the government’s report dated Dec. 30, 2014, was based on a “public consultation” period that ended last February, 10 months earlier.

This 10-page document (not including appendices) either took an inordinate amount of time to write or was delayed considerably before its release.

Given the international arena in which cross-border finance takes place, and the aggressiveness exhibited by the U.K. and EU regulators on this issue in the past year, it is concerning that Cayman’s intended response is being based on responses collected so long ago. What took so long?

More generally in Cayman, too often the fruits of so-called “public consultation” are unnecessary delay or “political cover” for legislators, who routinely “consult the public” on the most mundane of matters.

Our current favorite is the super-slow-motion approach to adjusting speed limits on some of Grand Cayman’s streets (particularly West Bay Road, which due to several pedestrian deaths has been the subject of such discussions for years). In this case, public consultation began in November 2013, and the proposals were sent to Cabinet in February 2014.

Nothing has been heard of them since.

Speed (on addressing financial matters or on our roadways), we emphasize, is not “of the essence.”

Increasingly, it IS the essence.

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