Elected politicians, senior government workers and appointed board members will have to submit disclosures of personal business interests and finances for public review, according to amended legislation approved by Cayman Islands lawmakers Monday.
The changes were approved in a unanimous Legislative Assembly vote to support the Standards in Public Life (Amendment) Bill. The original law was passed in early 2014, but was never put into legal effect, largely because of complaints from appointed members of boards and commissions serving at the request of politicians. The disclosures mandated by the initial law, board members argued, were far too broad – extending in some cases to distant relations and employees of the board members.
“The great challenge we’ve had with this bill is trying to strike the right balance,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said. “If we wind up with disclosure requirements which are so onerous that people are unwilling to volunteer to these [boards and commissions] positions, then we will have to completely revamp the system that we have.”
Under the amended legislation, which still requires a one-third vote of parliament and the signature of Governor Helen Kilpatrick, board members will not have to declare memberships in any professional group, charity or special interest organization.
Interest disclosure requirements for appointed board members extend only to their immediate family – spouses and dependents – and are to be declared only when the board member holds property or manages anything on behalf of that person or if that person manages something for the board member.
For politicians and senior civil servants, the required disclosures are more stringent, but more or less unchanged from the initial legislation that was passed more than two years ago.
The Standards in Public Life Law, 2013, requires “a person in public life,” within 90 days of assuming office, to make a declaration to the Commission for Standards in Public Life of income, assets and liabilities acquired during the previous year.
For a Legislative Assembly candidate seeking election, that declaration should be made before the person files nomination papers. Thereafter, no later than June 30 of each year, the declaration must be updated.
Those required to register include all Legislative Assembly members (including the deputy governor and attorney general), the Speaker of the House, civil service chief officers and deputy chief officers, chief financial officers and their deputies, heads of departments, section or unit chiefs and their deputies, as well as top officials within statutory authorities or government-owned companies and appointed board members who oversee those authorities.
Certain reporting requirements are different and less stringent for appointed board members. The law does not apply to the judiciary.
East End MLA Arden McLean and George Town MLA Winston Connolly objected to the public declaration and reporting requirement for everyone listed in the law, including appointed board members.
They said they had no problem with politicians being required to declare their private interests, but, Mr. Connolly said, in the case of board members – and some civil servants – it did not seem right.
“We don’t want people to feel that, if they serve the public, that everything they have is to be used against them,” Mr. Connolly said.
For members of the Legislative Assembly, Mr. McLean advocated placing the current register of interests, once it is updated with new information required under the Standards in Public Life Law, on the Internet for “all and sundry” to see. Right now, the register can only be inspected in paper format during business hours.