Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin on Friday accused Cayman’s oldest newspaper and its publisher, David R. Legge, of committing a “reckless … treasonous attack on the Cayman Islands and on all the people of Cayman.”
Premier McLaughlin’s comments were made during the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee in response to an editorial published by the Cayman Compass on Wednesday, June 3. The editorial, which is an opinion piece, was in relation to the ongoing FIFA corruption and bribery scandal and took a stance against various reports of corrupt acts in the country, including those that have been alleged in U.S. federal court indictments against former FIFA vice president and Cayman Islands resident Jeffrey Webb.
“The sad fact is that [Mr. Legge] does know what the reality is – he knows. And so, because he knows, the Compass editorial is not only reckless, it must be interpreted as a treasonous attack on the Cayman Islands and on all the people of Cayman,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “[The editorial] is a direct attack on everyone who lives here, who works here, who invests here, who has a business here, who serves on public boards, who works in the public sector, who works in financial services, who works in tourism and it is a full frontal assault on the many businesses which pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Cayman Compass every year in advertising fees.”
Following the comments of Premier McLaughlin on Friday, Mr. Legge and his wife, Mrs. Vicki Legge, who serves as co-publisher of the Compass, were placed under 24-hour protective guard by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and flew to a location in the United States on Saturday.
“The premier must be aware of the irony of his remarks,” Mr. Legge said. “The editorial to which he took such umbrage addresses the need to eliminate corruption in the Cayman Islands (and by inference, elsewhere). Mr. McLaughlin himself campaigned in no small measure on the exact same theme in the run-up to his election in 2013.
“Further, the editorial was in perfect harmony with remarks to be delivered yesterday by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to the heads of the G7 countries meeting in Germany. According to the BBC, Mr. Cameron was to urge a ‘global crackdown on the “cancer” of corruption.’
“In Mr. Cameron’s words: ‘We just don’t talk enough about corruption. This has got to change. We have to show some of the same courage that exposed FIFA and break the international taboo on pointing the finger at corrupt institutions.’
“He concluded: ‘World leaders simply cannot dodge this issue any longer.’”
The Compass editorial, entitled ‘Corruption: An insidious, creeping crime’ stated the following in its second paragraph: “Whether it’s securing a vehicular inspection sticker, an exemption to development regulations, approval for work permits, the support of a particular bloc of voters, or, allegedly, millions of dollars in bribes in relation to sporting events – lurking behind the scenes are shadows of impropriety, influence and inscrutability. Because such behavior is so commonplace, we tend to ‘normalize it,’ refusing even to recognize it, or neglecting to see how aberrant it really is. In the 1990s, U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan called this ‘defining deviancy down.’ In Cayman, we’re more likely to attribute such behavior to ‘cultural differences.’”
Mr. Legge said the premier “implied” in his remarks to the House that the June 3 editorial was “accusing all Caymanians of corruption.”
“He knows that is not true and was himself engaging in corruption – corruption of the language,” Mr. Legge said. “Nearly all Caymanians are hardworking law-abiding people. That has been our experience in more than 25 years of living on this island.
“The issue the Compass was raising, and we stand by it, is that too often the law-abiding among us – Caymanian and otherwise – encounter corruption and avert their eyes or turn their heads, accepting it as a cultural norm or ‘business as usual.’
“As does David Cameron, we reject that, as should our Premier, his government, and the Cayman people,” the publisher continued. “Unfortunately, we believe Mr. McLaughlin’s intemperate remarks have set into motion a scenario that will result in incalculable harm to these islands.”
In addition to the editorial, Compass staff reporters have, over the past two weeks, revealed certain connections between the suspects in the FIFA probe and other criminal investigations ongoing in Cayman, and links between the families of Webb’s close associates and Cayman’s financial services regulator – the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority. Editorially, the Compass has asked that the managing director of CIMA, Cindy Scotland, recuse herself from any participation in regulatory matters regarding the FIFA scandal.
It was the cultural comments, however, that appeared to anger Mr. McLaughlin on Friday.
“Surely, the editor, for as long as he has been around these islands, must know and appreciate that I, as premier, and this government, and I daresay the governor and the U.K., would not stand idly by if the country was corrupt as [Mr. Legge] indicates,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Mr. Legge must know better, and he does. And if he does know better, then one wonders why he would willingly encourage and give credence to those who do not mean us well or who care only for a sensational news story today – regardless of whatever is true and good about these islands.
“In these difficult days and in the weeks to come, when the world’s attention is trained on us, it is important for all of us in Cayman, but especially those in leadership and in the press, to maintain our dignity and to protect what we have worked so hard to build up – not by ignoring a problem or covering up, but by standing firm in what we know to be true and resisting the cheap thrill of sensationalism.
“The press has a right to speak freely, but they also have a duty to be factual and to act responsibly. A free press is important to a free society, and I will defend at all times the need for a free press. But I will not sit by and say nothing when the Compass takes that freedom for granted and is as reckless, disingenuous and irresponsible as was its editorial on Wednesday.
“In the words of the great country music artist Merle Haggard: When you’re running down my country, man, you’re walking on the fighting side of me,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Mr. Legge characterized these comments by the premier as “gratuitous.”
“He pays homage to the principle of “free speech” and then adds a “but …,” Mr. Legge said. “Mr. McLaughlin should know, but apparently does not, that when it comes to free speech, there is no ‘but ….’
“It is true that ‘free speech’ and a ‘free press’ are governed by certain statutes, most notably defamation. We expect Mr. McLaughlin will become much more familiar with those statutes in coming days.”
The Legislative Assembly chamber burst into an uproar after Mr. McLaughlin’s speech, with lawmakers pounding tables and shouting what generally seemed to be support for the premier’s commentary.
“I think all members join with you in the words you have just spoken,” Finance Minister Marco Archer said.
Following Mr. Archer’s comments, East End MLA Arden McLean moved a motion in the committee which he stated as follows: “Instead of enriching someone who has come to these shores with our poor people’s dollars, I move that no monies be spent out of the people’s money with the [Cayman] Compass for any advertisement from government.”
Mr. Archer, as chairman of the finance committee, then put the motion to the committee for a vote. However, he seemed to state the opposite intent of Mr. McLean’s motion in doing so.
“The question is whether we continue to allow the Caym
an Islands government to spend its advertising or to advertise jobs and other tenders, whatever the case may be, with the Cayman Compass,” Mr. Archer said. The minister later clarified with the Compass that the intent of the motion was as Mr. McLean had initially stated.
Assembled lawmakers voted “yes” on the question.