Legislative bills: Major legislative changes proposed

A raft of significant legislation – dealing with everything from the protection of personal records, to public officials’ disclosure requirements, to private sector pensions rules – will be addressed in the Legislative Assembly at its April 25 meeting.

The list of bills was made public by the Cayman Islands government Monday, within the 21-day legal time line required for a hearing at the Legislative Assembly.

The changes include amendments to a controversial section of the Health Services Authority Law which has recently been interpreted by the local courts to mean public hospital patients alleging malpractice by authority staff members could not successfully sue the government unless they proved “bad faith” on behalf of those staffers.

Another bill mooted by parliament seeks to remove all “public officials” from the membership of the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Commission. As it currently stands, that legislation, if passed, would remove the police commissioner, auditor general and complaints commissioner from that body, which investigates allegations of corruption against public officials in Cayman.

Other legislative issues involving the retirement age, personal data, politicians and civil servants’ interests disclosure and public education could come before the legislature within the next month.

Retirement age

Amendments to the National Pensions Law, which have been sought since 2014, will, if approved, raise the retirement age for private sector workers from 60 to 65, except in specific cases.

The legislation will create a “normal age of pension entitlement” which means 65 years of age unless a Cabinet order allows an individual to opt for the earlier retirement age of 60 years.

The proposal also seeks to increase a worker’s maximum pensionable earnings from $60,000 a year to $87,000 a year. As it stands now, an employee and their employer make matching contributions of 5 percent of the first $60,000 of salary to the workers’ retirement fund. However, if the new legislation passes, the threshold for contributions will increase to $87,000 per year.

The bill would also require public registration for pension plan providers and prescribes more substantial penalties for the violation of the National Pensions Law, which can reach up to $100,000 in fines and up to five years imprisonment upon conviction for a third offense.

Public standards

Although a version of the legislation passed in early 2014, the Standards in Public Life Law was never put into effect, largely because of concerns from government-appointed board members who indicated privately that they would not serve on those boards if they had to disclose their business interests.

The public standards bill requires a much more specific disclosure of income, property and other interests from elected officials and senior civil servants and those of close family members, providing penalties for not doing so.

However, in the rewritten legislation, it appears appointed board members’ close relations, defined as “immediate family members,” will not bear the same disclosure requirements.

The legislation does not require a board member of a statutory authority, public authority, government-owned company or who is a member of a constitutionally created commission to disclose any interests, income, assets or liabilities of immediate family or “any other connected person” unless there is a possible or perceived conflict.

According to the bill: “Where this is so, the person has to declare only such interests, income, assets or liabilities in relation to the person in public life and any member of the immediate family and such property held on behalf of a connected person as well as such property held by a connected person on behalf of the person in public life where there is a possible or perceived conflict.”

Data protection

The government will attempt, for the third time, to pass legislation aimed at the protection of personal data held by both private and public sector entities.

The bill, known as the Data Protection Bill, has never made it to the Legislative Assembly in its two previous iterations, largely due to local business sector concerns that it would add operating costs in order to comply. Similar legislation took effect in the European Union in the mid-1990s.

The legislation requires that private individuals must be able to access information about themselves and further states those records must be handled lawfully by any organization which retains that data. The bill also outlines what is considered “personal data” and “sensitive personal data” regarding any individual that must not be disclosed, purposefully or accidentally, except in specific circumstances.

Sensitive personal data includes information relating to racial or ethnic origins, political opinions, religious beliefs, membership in a trade union, health-related data, sexual preferences and information related to the commission of an offense.

The proposed legislation has obvious ramifications for journalists and artists, which are afforded some limited protection under the bill in that they are exempted from some of its requirements.

Education Bill

In 2009, the former Progressives-led government passed a sweeping education reform bill in the waning hours of its parliamentary term, but successive governments did not put that law into full effect.

Now, some seven years later, a redrafted Education Bill seeks to replace that legislation, allowing, among other things, the empowerment of the education minister to establish a school curriculum. The bill would also allow Cabinet to alter the mandatory school age, which currently stands at age 17 in Cayman.

The bill also seeks the registration of each “early childhood center” with the government and allows the minister to close such institutions if it is determined there are immediate health and safety issues there.

The bill also outlaws corporal punishment and “acts which are inhumane or degrading” to any student.

Magistrates’ pay

For the first time, court magistrates will be placed in their own government pay scales and will be kept under a judicial pension scheme, if lawmakers approve the Judges Emoluments and Allowances [Amendment] Bill, 2016.

The law, if passed, will place magistrates who oversee the local Summary Courts in the judicial pension plan, now only made up of current and retired Grand Court judges.

This change is to “recognize their independence as a part of the judiciary and their separation from the general public service.”

Accountants Bill

The Accountants Bill, 2016, if passed, will formalize the creation of a professional standards body for the profession, seeking to formalize the establishment the Cayman Islands Institute of Professional Accountants.

The organization, which has already been created in practice, will act as a body corporate for members of the local accounting profession.

The bill also sets out registration requirements and qualification criteria for members of the institute.

Segregated health fund

The government’s already existing segregated insurance fund, which essentially collects money from individuals’ healthcare plans to help pay for indigent/uninsured care will be placed under direct management of the Health Insurance Commission, if amendments to the Health Insurance Commission Law are approved.

According to the legislation, the collection of sums due by private plan payees to the segregated fund and remittance of those funds is to be handled by the Health Insurance Commission.

Typically, Cayman collects between $5 million and $6 million per year from the private health plan customers for the benefit of the segregated insurance fund.

Tax information bill

This bill proposes the amendment to the Tax Information Authority Law which would allow Cabinet to introduce administrative penalties of up to $50,000 for breaches of the regulations. The legislation does not state what specifically the penalties would be issued for, which will be decided in the regulations attached to the law.

Generally, the tax information law governs tax information exchange with foreign jurisdictions in instances where that information has been requested by lawful means.