EDITORIAL – Is our premier the ‘dummy’ or the ventriloquist?

Perhaps Premier Alden McLaughlin is willing to play the role of the “dummy” — but we, and we presume the Caymanian people, are not.

About a month ago, Premier Alden McLaughlin informed us all that a review of the Cayman Islands immigration system conducted by respected local attorney David Ritch constitutes legally privileged advice, and accordingly, the report will not be released to the public — (which paid for it).

“Government is considering and will act on the advice, but it should be understood that this advice is subject to legal professional privilege. As such, the advice is not intended for publication,” Premier McLaughlin said.

… At least, that’s what we heard. The Cayman Compass immediately appealed that decision to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

We received a response, not from the premier, but from Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose.

Signaling his intent to interpose himself in the Freedom of Information process, Mr. Rose (a civil servant who is essentially the equivalent of “chief officer” for the Office of the Premier) said, “There is no evidence that the premier made the initial decision [not to release the Ritch report].”


Instead, according to Mr. Rose (as quoted in Monday’s front page story), “The [premier’s office information manager] followed best practice by seeking the assistance of the information manager for the Cabinet Office … and worked very closely with her to ensure that she applied the correct exemptions and correctly drafted the response to the applicant.

“I am therefore satisfied that the initial decision was taken by the information manager in the Office of the Premier.”

Translating from bureaucratese into plain English, what Mr. Rose is saying is this: Yes, Premier McLaughlin’s lips were moving. But no, the premier wasn’t the one doing the talking.

Put another way, when Premier McLaughlin said in late July the Ritch report is not for publication, he wasn’t making the decision — he was merely announcing it.

Oh, brother.

As we stated at the outset of this editorial, we’re wise to acts of ventriloquism. And we’ll tell you that Premier McLaughlin isn’t likely to allow himself to be a passive conduit for anybody else’s utterances … particularly not for a civil servant in the role of “information manager” for his office.

In addition to being the elected leader of this country, Premier McLaughlin is himself a trained attorney. We find it hard — no, impossible — to believe that he would say something publicly — or even repeat something — about “legal professional privilege” without playing an active, even starring, role in the process.

The implication of Mr. Rose’s recent statement is government is seeking to delay its response to our request to see the report for at least several more weeks. (If the premier is the “decider” on the FOI response, then the matter would proceed directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office. If he is not, the process is re-routed, i.e. detoured, to Mr. Rose — and only after that might it go to the information commissioner.)

Even if officials genuinely believe their assertion that the Ritch report constitutes legally privileged advice, that is no disguise for what appears to be their real motivation — to bury the report from ever seeing the light of day.

You see, the concept of “legal professional privilege” is binding only on the attorney (in this case, Mr. Ritch), not the client. If Premier McLaughlin and Attorney General Sam Bulgin wished, they could buy an ad in tomorrow’s Compass and print the report in its entirety. (Heck, we’ll donate the space for free.)

Whoever is claimed to be behind the curtain, pulling the strings or mouthing the syllables, here’s the fundamental truth: Premier McLaughlin does not want you, the members of the public, to read this report — ever.

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  1. I really do not feel it is such, that Mr. Premier is playing the role of a “dummy” and does not want the public to read this report; and I truly applaud him for making sure all i’s are dotted and all t’s crossed because leaving frayed ends, there will be too much at stake for people to pick apart. Which they will do.
    On this island, when the word Immigration, Residence or Status is echoed it is as if some people jump on board as if it was the butter on their bread.

  2. Perhaps the Compass Editorial Board are being a little naive to think that everything the PM says are his own words and thoughts. As head of a Government, he will take advice from colleagues and where very specific advice is sought, he may well ask someone with knowledge of the area to ‘provide his words’.

  3. If this long-running battle between the Compass editorial board and Premiere Alden McLaughlin shows us one thing, it is this: anyone will say anything to get what they want.

    And what both parties want, in this case, is for their own vested interests and reasons, not for the interests of the majority of Caymanian people.

    We all know, through years of experience, that if a consultant’s report is requested and paid for by the CIG and comes back favourable to Government plans and policies, it is trumpeted in all corners of the media and the public realm, with all accompanying fanfare…if it does not…it is buried under a pile of official manure…never to see the light of day for as long as the Govt. can keep it there.

    If this immigration review is objective, it will show a number of things that are savoury to neither the CIG…or the Compass editorial board…and each party’s positions and wishes have been made very clear in this publication’s pages in recent weeks.

    It will probably show that an unofficial moratorium of permanent residency grants needs to be lifted immediately…or face a Privy Council case in the UK that will order it so….something Mr. McLaughlin will not find to his liking at all.

    It might also show that this mass importation of foreign labour that is relentlessly being pursued by the CIG now is also an issue that can have negative consequences in the not-so-distant future…again something that the CIG will have no liking for, if the other societal issues than enriching a small handful of very connected people, are taken into account.

    Where the CIG and Compass’s editor comes into conflict is on the PR issue…neither party has an issue with the mass immigration of cheap foreign labour.

    What neither party is considering is that mass immigration into the Cayman Islands of foreign nationals can and could also become a Privy Council matter…or a matter for a national referendum, if the Caymanian people decide that it should…some time in the future.

    It might do both parties, both the CEB and Premiere Alden McLaughlin some good to consider this very distinct possibility as they both push their agendas on the Caymanian people.

  4. It doesn’t matter where you live in the world the harsh reality is that however much politicians and senior civil servants may claim to support freedom of information in public most of them privately hate the idea of Joe Public getting his sticky fingers on all their secrets and will resist it at all costs. Take as just one example the Aina report – it took four years and a small fortune in legal costs to make public what eventually turned out to be a rather uninteresting document.

    Just over a year ago the Hon Premier was quoted in the context of the FOI Law as saying, “I still think it is one of the most critical things we have done,” and stating that he was fully committed to it – well this gives him a good chance to prove that.

  5. Well John, if the Cayman Compass Editorial is a little naive , and the PM would take advice from his advisor and use it, and can’t see that the advice he is getting is wright or wrong , but use it . That’s not good leadership .

  6. Why is the advice wrong? Legal advice may be withheld even if, as the Compass Editorial Board assert it was paid for by the public….. Interesting point for a ‘no tax’ country.
    Let’s be clear, Government will ask for and sometimes pay for advice – that’s what they do. It doesn’t automatically follow that the Compass has a right to splash it across its pages.
    Perhaps the Compass would like to pay for its own advice?