New Anti-Corruption Commission ‘must regain public trust’

For the first time in its existence, the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Commission is no longer presided over by a member of local law enforcement and has no government employees appointed to its membership.

Former Cayman Islands Attorney General Richard Coles was named commission chairman on Friday along with three other prominent Caymanians from the private sector in what completes a significant shift for the body charged with overseeing investigations into allegations of public corruption.

Cayman’s Anti-Corruption CommissionMr. Coles, who has also served as chairman of the Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission, will become just the second person to hold the Anti-Corruption Commissioner’s post, after former Police Commissioner David Baines, who departed the islands in May.

“The most important thing is … to ensure we do our best to make the new commission a body that Caymanians and others can have confidence in,” Mr. Coles said during a telephone interview Friday. “[In past years] the confidence just wasn’t there, for one reason or another.

“If the public [doesn’t] have confidence in these kinds of bodies, they lose effectiveness.”

Cayman Islands lawmakers approved changes to the commission’s make-up in June, following previous parliamentary motions that asked for the removal of requirements that the police commissioner, auditor general and complaints commissioner serve on the appointed body. Under the new law, the governor is responsible for the appointment of all five members of the commission, rather than just two appointees from the private sector.

Mr. Coles, who left the attorney general’s post in 1998, said he hoped the new group of “independent private citizens” would help to restore some of the lost confidence. He said the new commission aimed to have its first meeting during the second or third week of September.

Other new commission members were named as former Cayman Islands Monetary Authority Chairman Tim Ridley, noted local immigration attorney Sophia Harris and accountant and recent Young Caymanian Leadership Award recipient Kadi Pentney-Merren.

Local businessman Norman Bodden, the only currently appointed commission member, was given an extended two-year term as well.

Mr. Coles and Mr. Ridley were appointed to two-year terms. Ms. Merren and Ms. Harris were appointed to three-year terms.

Mr. Ridley, in particular, has been an outspoken advocate for a number of years in seeking the removal of the police commissioner as head of the commission. He declined to comment publicly about the new commission membership on Friday.

Mr. Ridley has raised issues regarding the practical operation of the commission, including the fact that three high-ranking civil servants sat on the anti-corruption board, almost since the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Law.

Speaking at a public event in September 2011, Mr. Ridley said he did not intend to criticize then-Commissioner Baines or anyone else on the Anti-Corruption Commission. However, he warned about the dual roles that the members of the anti-corruption board had and noted that as part of good governance moving forward, the Anti-Corruption Law “may have to be revisited.”

Mr. Baines later conceded that there is a question over whether the commission is appropriately constituted, and that the dual roles were a challenge.

There have also been issues around the staffing of the Anti-Corruption Commission. The commission members themselves, who are volunteer appointees, do not investigate acts of crime. In the early days, the commission seconded Royal Cayman Islands Police Service officers for its various investigations. Later on, two RCIPS officers were assigned full-time to do anti-corruption work.

Reports from the commission in 2014 and 2015 indicated those two officers had to plow through dozens of cases, many of them often of a complex and detailed nature. The meeting minutes from one commission meeting in mid-2014 indicated there were 23 ongoing investigations being conducted by just two officers. Just two of those cases had been completed and turned over to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a ruling on charges.

Also, the commission itself failed to meet for more than a year during the same period because of a lack of appointed members.