UK Minister to focus on finance, hurricanes during Cayman visit

Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad

Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon is set to arrive in Cayman Wednesday for a review of the island chain’s hurricane preparedness and to discuss issues related to Cayman’s company ownership registry.

Lord Ahmad’s visit is partly intended as a follow-up to a May 24 conference call held between himself, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin and other British Overseas Territories Leaders.

The call was held “to discuss company ownership transparency and, in particular, the issue of public registers of beneficial ownership.”

The U.K. House of Commons approved an amendment to Britain’s Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill on May 1 which require all British Overseas Territories – but not U.K. Crown Dependencies – to adopt public registers of company owners. If the territories refuse to do so by Dec. 31, 2020, the amendment calls for the U.K. Secretary of State to draft orders in council to force the adoption of such registers.

Cayman currently maintains a register of company ownership, but it is only accessible for law enforcement or taxing entities upon request.

The U.K. House of Lords allowed the amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill to pass, but several peers – including Lord Ahmad – spoke out against the measure during a May 21 meeting.

Lord Ahmad said the move to force territories via orders in council using powers reserved for Her Majesty’s government under various constitutional arrangements with the territories effectively “disenfranchises” the elected representatives in the territories.

“We have legislated for them without their consent only in exceptional circumstances, for example to decriminalize homosexuality in certain territories to ensure that they were compliant with international human rights obligations,” Lord Ahmad said on May 21. “By contrast, financial services are an area of domestic responsibility for territory governments.”

Although Cayman, located in the western Caribbean, missed the wrath of the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season, Lord Ahmad pointed out many British Territories – including the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos Islands – did not.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc, not only upon those islands’ financial industries, but also hit their 2018 tourism seasons hard – with some reporting a 50 percent drop in their usual visitor numbers.

“There remains a real risk that this will destabilize the reconstruction efforts of the hurricane-affected territories and all of this shortly before the next hurricane season begins [Friday],” Lord Ahmad said. “Our preference would have been not to legislate in this manner without the territories’ consent.”

The Lords effectively did not vote on the amended Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill on May 21, but simply debated it and agreed the bill’s wording, allowing the changes to stand.

In addition to Cayman, Lord Ahmad is expected to visit the British Caribbean territories of Anguilla and Montserrat during this week’s trip. According to U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Officials, his itinerary does not include the storm-ravaged British Virgin Islands.

In addition to financial services and hurricane preparedness, Lord Ahmad is expected to drop by the RCIPS Air Operations Unit and give them a word of thanks for their efforts during last year’s search and rescue mission to the eastern Caribbean, following Hurricane Irma.

“The U.K. has provided critical aid and support across the region to assist in recovery from last year’s widespread devastation, and we can already see this help from the U.K. has made a real difference on the ground,” Lord Ahmad said Friday. “However, there’s more that needs to be done.”