From Kuwait to Cayman: Governor’s globetrotting career

Cayman Islands' new governor Martyn Roper introduces himself to a crowd of dignitaries at a welcome reception Monday, as Premier Alden McLaughlin, left, and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson look on. - PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER

Early in his career, Martyn Roper was among a group of British diplomats expelled from Iran. Just a few years later, he was in Kuwait when Saddam Hussein’s army invaded. He saw the helicopter gunships bombing the Emir’s palace and spent three weeks “held hostage” at the advent of the first Gulf War, when he was among hundreds of foreigners unable to leave the country in the early days of the Iraqi occupation.

Mr. Roper has since gone on to work for the British government in countries all over the world, some friendly, some much less so.

As he arrived in Grand Cayman to take up his post as the island’s 14th governor on Monday, he recounted some of those early adventures and reflected on the comparatively warm reception he had received in the territory.

Though the prospect of being “kidnapped” during the annual Pirates Week parade still awaits, he believes he can forge friendly and positive relationships in the islands that will prove mutually beneficial for Cayman and the U.K.

Speaking to the Cayman Compass during a welcome reception held in his honor at Government House Monday, Mr. Roper said he hoped to be an advocate for the territory.

He said the role of governor was different to his previous posts because it involved a kind of dual loyalty, both to the U.K. and to the Cayman Islands.

“Governors are in a unique position,” he said, “because it is really important that they reflect the views and the positions of the territory back to London and be an advocate for those views and help encourage those views.

“It is an interesting position to be in. Everybody I have spoken to has given me advice on how to get that right. Diplomats have skills of influencing, negotiating and it doesn’t really matter what the context is, you can shift to the context. I think those skills will be of value.”

He said he had detailed briefings about the Cayman Islands and the Overseas Territories in general before arriving on the island on Monday.

“People are incredibly friendly, and my first impressions are hugely positive,” he said. “I heard a lot of positive things about Cayman Islands before I came. You have a huge amount to be proud of. This is a territory that is self-governing to a very large extent and I think you can be proud of that.”

On day one, he said he would be forming no “quick views” but his initial priorities will be firmly focused on security and safety. He said the U.K. was in negotiations to bring a second helicopter to the islands that could be used by police, as well as for search and rescue and deployment in disaster-relief efforts at home and in other territories.

He also hopes his experience in promoting trade and investment – a key part of his previous role as deputy head of mission for the U.K. in Beijing – can be put to use.

“I hope I can make a contribution on trade and investment and the premier’s plans for a new ministry [of international trade and investment],” he added.

He said safeguarding the financial services industry and tourism sector would also be areas where he could contribute.

“Upholding the rights of everybody on the island will also be important, crisis management, disaster management – those are areas where we have an important role to play in collaboration with the government.”

He said developing relationships would be the key to success in the job. Though he is initially appointed on an interim basis, he hopes to fill the role in the longer term.

“I am looking on this as a permanent appointment and I want to make the long-term relationships from day one that I will need to move forward.”