Overseas Territories leaders prepare for UK meeting

Economic challenges, tourism and financial and regulatory issues were among the topics addressed by leaders of British Overseas Territories at a meeting last week in Bermuda, the group said in a statement Wednesday. 

The pre-Joint Ministerial Council meeting aimed to outline issues the officials plan to bring to the attention of British ministers when they meet with them in London in December. 

Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin was among those who attended. 

Mr. McLaughlin told media in Bermuda, “Even when the issues do not necessarily affect our territory, we are there to provide solidarity that is necessary to ensure that the U.K. pays attention to whatever issues are affecting the territory in question.”  

Among the topics discussed last week was beneficial ownership. 

At last year’s Joint Ministerial Council meeting, the U.K. urged its overseas territories to create a publicly searchable central register of beneficial ownership of legal entities. 

The Cayman Islands and other overseas territories have resisted doing so, citing privacy concerns and a lack of universal application. The Cayman Islands maintains a beneficial ownership register, but it is not public and court action is typically required to retrieve the information. 

Mr. McLaughlin said in Bermuda that now that U.K. elections are over, the pressure won’t be as great, but that there is still “no question that the overseas territories are going to be required to establish some kind of platform by which U.K. law enforcement and tax regulatory authorities have access to beneficial ownership.” 

Also on the topic of financial regulation, leaders discussed how to continue the fight against financial crime and to “continue to be responsible international financial centers that facilitate global trade and investment in line with the emerging global consensus,” according to a statement from the attendees. 

Other financial topics touched upon were ways to build sustainable economies, with “stable banking sectors where relevant that are more resilient and capitalize on changing global trends and to seek innovative solutions.” 

Other topics discussed related to environmental sustainability, social security and healthcare, including mental health services and the creation of an overseas territories sports council. 

The group also stated its intent “to implement the principles espoused in the 2012 White Paper on Security, Success and Sustainability and to agree at the ministerial level on collective issues between Overseas Territories Governments and the U.K. Government.” 

The goals set out in the white paper include strengthening good governance, public financial management and economic planning, and improving the quality and range of support available to the territories. 

Addressing the media on the first day of the meeting, Bermuda Premier Michael Dunkley said that the territories had faced a number of challenges since leaders last met, including “economic headwinds which continue to slow the pace of our recovery,” complex tourism dynamics, and social issues including gangs and healthcare costs. But he said that there is “cause for much hope within the territories” and they must keep in mind that there is “strength in unity.” 

Mr. Dunkley also pledged that the December meeting in London would not be a repeat of last year, and that they would push to have access to the right people, “right up to the prime minister.” 

Bermuda Premier Michael Dunkley, fourth from left, in Bermuda shorts
Bermuda Premier Michael Dunkley, fourth from left, in Bermuda shorts, with Overseas Territories leaders, including Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin, second from right, at the pre-Joint Ministerial Council meeting held last week. – PHOTO: Bernews