A group of visiting British elected officials agreed Friday that the U.K.’s management of Cayman and other remaining overseas territories has been unequal and needs to be reviewed.
The members of the All Party Parliamentary Group commented on recent efforts by the House of Commons to legislate for the territories’ various company ownership registry regimes and the territories’ lack of representation in choosing their own governors.
“There are so many inconsistencies in how the U.K. government manages their overseas territories, and it’s turned into a bit of a muddle,” said Andrew Rosindell, MP, during a press conference at Owen Roberts International Airport Friday afternoon.
“The discrepancy between the overseas territories and the crown dependencies, the lack of a level playing field, is untidy and needs further revision,” said Henry Smith, MP, who was on his first official visit to Cayman as party of the parliamentary group.
The House of Commons voted May 1 to essentially force all British Overseas Territories – but not the three remaining Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man – to adopt public registers of company ownership. If the territories fail to do so by December 2020, it is mandated that the U.K. Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs draft orders in council to make the territories adopt such a measure.
Cayman has said it will fight attempts to implement the public register in local courts.
“The government is not very happy about it, Mrs. May [referring to the U.K. prime minister] wasn’t happy with it,” said Col. Bob Stewart, MP, also on his first visit to Cayman. “It was rather forced upon the House of Commons in a way. Let’s just hope that the government can amend it, make it work.”
Mr. Smith said the amendment made to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill on May 1 was well-intentioned, but not very well thought through.
“Transparency is very important, but what’s also important is a level playing field and fairness between the U.K. jurisdiction and the Cayman Islands,” he said. “With the current legislation, we don’t actually have that.”
Mr. Rosindell indicated that his colleagues’ comments were not to be taken to mean that demands for a public company ownership register also should be forced upon the dependencies.
“But there should be the same rules applying to all parts of the British family,” Mr. Rosindell said. “It’s not right that, effectively, you’re expecting the Cayman Islands to have a much more rigid system than we use ourselves in mainland U.K.”
It is not only in the development of a public company register that the U.K. has dealt unfairly with its overseas territories, Mr. Rosindell said.
He noted that the current situation involving Cayman’s absent Governor Anwar Choudhury flagged another example where the crown dependencies had greater governance input than the Caribbean territories.
The confusion and uncertainty surrounding Governor Choudhury’s fate has led to separate petitions, one calling for Mr. Choudhury’s return and another asking that the U.K. install Acting Governor Franz Manderson to the permanent post.
“Like with the crown dependencies, overseas territories should have a say in who their governor is,” Mr. Rosindell said. “It’s something that should be decided mutually rather than just imposed.
“You do need someone who is slightly independent and isn’t part of an established order within an existing territory, but that doesn’t mean the territory shouldn’t have a say in who is appointed, and I hope that’s another thing that can be reviewed.”
Mr. Rosindell also wondered why the U.K. needed to take such a heavy hand with territories, like Cayman, which were being managed well.
“It’s a perfect example of how territories can be self-governing, self-sustainable, without being a drain on the U.K. taxpayer,” he said. “If only all overseas territories could be managed in the same way, we would all be very happy.”
The members of the All Party Parliamentary Group were visiting through Sunday and expected to be back for another trip in November, before the Joint Ministerial Council meetings in the U.K.