Martyn Roper sworn in as Cayman’s 14th governor

There was a sense of deja vu around the Legislative Assembly Monday as a new governor was sworn in for the second time this year.

Martyn Roper and his wife Elisabeth arrived in Grand Cayman around noon on a Cayman Airways jet from Miami. The couple was greeted by a police guard of honor on the airport tarmac and a welcoming committee of politicians and officials, including Premier Alden McLaughlin and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson.

Mr. Roper, the territory’s 14th governor, replaces Anwar Choudhury, who arrived in March with similar fanfare, only to be recalled by the U.K. amid allegations of misconduct.

Mr. Roper, 53, a career diplomat from West Yorkshire, took the oath of office at the Legislative Assembly just after 3 p.m. His appointment is initially on an interim basis, for up to nine months, but both he and Premier McLaughlin expressed hope that it could be extended.

In his address to the Assembly, the governor alluded to the controversy surrounding his predecessor’s untimely and unexplained departure.

He said, “I realize that the timing and circumstances of my arrival are unusual and come after a difficult and uncertain period following the withdrawal of my predecessor.”

He said he understood the frustration around the lack of information about Mr. Choudhury’s exit but insisted this was in line with Foreign and Commonwealth Office protocols to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.

He added, “I’m sure it was not an easy time for everyone. But now it is time for us to move forward in a spirit of partnership and cooperation to deliver enhanced security and prosperity for all the people of these wonderful islands.”

As governor, he said, he would seek to be open and straightforward and listen to the views and ambitions of the Cayman people on all issues, including constitutional change. He said he would operate with a “light touch” where possible, while recognizing his responsibilities under the constitution, which include security and defense.

Mr. Roper touched briefly on some of the more controversial topics he will have to tackle, including the issue of same-sex marriage. He said part of his responsibility was to ensure compliance with international human rights, “including the right to equality for all Cayman Islanders.”

He also referenced the thorny issue of public beneficial ownership registries – a key point of contention between Cayman and the U.K. – saying it had been a “difficult area” in the relationship for some time. He said recent progress on some aspects of that issue were a “positive signal that we can together solve contentious issues.”

He said it was an “honor and a privilege” to take on the role and he would seek to be an advocate for the territory, wherever possible.

“I will always strive to do my utmost for the Cayman Islands. I will fight your corner, as a friend, to the best of my ability and help London to understand your point of view,” he added.

Earlier, Premier McLaughlin gave a welcome speech that included multiple references to the challenges ahead. He cited pressure from the U.K. over “gay marriage” and the “constitutional overreach” of the U.K. parliament in seeking to mandate public beneficial ownership registries as two issues of contention.

Though he extended a warm welcome to Mr. Roper, who he noted shared his love of “books and bicycles,” he said he had no doubt their relationship would have its ups and downs.

He said, “Your role is not an easy one. I fully understand the challenges of walking that line between your responsibility as a representative of the Queen and your role in helping to protect, defend and help the Cayman Islands continue to prosper.”

He added that he hoped Mr. Roper would be able to walk that line effectively and join a “relatively short list of very good governors” of the Cayman Islands.

Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush also welcomed him to the “district of West Bay,” where the governor’s mansion is located. Mr. Bush also alluded to some of the political squabbles in the Legislative Assembly and suggested Mr. Roper may not need to involve himself in those local disputes, telling him in colloquial terms, “A cockroach has no business at a rooster fight.”

Governor’s arrival

Mr. Roper, whose last post was as deputy head of mission for the U.K. in Beijing, China, arrived in Cayman just after midday, stepping off the plane into a typically warm afternoon.

He briefly reviewed the police guard before he and his wife were personally introduced to members of the Legislative Assembly, senior government officials and the governor’s staff. The welcome ceremony lasted just 15 minutes, before Mr. Roper was whisked away to Government House ahead of the official swearing-in ceremony later in the day.

He said the sight of his new surroundings, the governor’s mansion on the fringes of Seven Mile Beach, was a moment that he would never forget.

Speaking to the media at the airport, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, who has been acting governor for the past five months, said, “We are excited to welcome him to the Cayman Islands and show him all the good things we are doing.

“We want to tap into his considerable experience and expertise in civil service reform.”

Mr. Manderson said he had enjoyed stepping into the role on a temporary basis but was now anxious to get back to his regular duties.

He believes a Caymanian could be a governor in a British territory, but not necessarily in the Cayman Islands itself. He said it had been possible for him to make decisions that were in the best interest of both countries, but there would occasionally be areas where there was conflict.

“Some issues are probably better dealt with by someone who comes in for a time and then leaves,” he added.

Asked if he knew why Mr. Choudhury had been recalled, he declined to discuss the issue, saying, “We are here to welcome Mr. Roper.”

A career diplomat, who has held senior posts in Brazil, Algeria and China, Mr. Roper’s resume also includes work on Overseas Territory issues in London and a stint at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

He was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2013 on his return to the U.K. from his posting in Algeria.

He is married to Elisabeth, has two children, aged 26 and 22, and enjoys cycling, reading and tennis, according to a brief biography released by the FCO.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now