EDITORIAL – Law passed, problem solved … Not even close

“The greatest part of legislating is pontificating.”

… Well, that is a maxim that emerges after taking note of the words of lawmakers almost everywhere (including the Cayman Islands), and comparing them with their actions.

We imagine it is invigorating to stand up before one’s peers to deliver sweeping oratory about “cleaning house,” “raising standards,” “safeguarding the public trust,” and the like, and then to retake one’s seat amid general applause. But as the play “Hamlet” illustrates, soliloquies derive their power from the substantive behavior that ensues.

Words move; actions matter.

That is particularly true when the subject of parliamentary discussion is anti-corruption and promotion of good governance. The Cayman government’s failure to implement the Standards in Public Life Law since it was first passed in 2014 – either in its original or an amended form – speaks far more loudly than even the most microphone-enhanced proselytizer.

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As written and approved, but never enforced, the law requires elected politicians, senior government workers and government-appointed board members to disclose publicly their personal interests as a means of identifying potential conflicts. According to the Auditor General’s report on public corruption, released last Friday, “Until this law is in force, if conflicts of interest arise they might not be identified or dealt with appropriately, creating opportunities for corruption.”

Being accountants, auditors general inhabit a realm of rules. If only there were some perfect codification – a golden rulebook – that by its mere existence would make the world orderly and neat.

The messier truth is that even the best set of rules is only as effective as its interpretation and enforcement.

If and when the government gets around to implementing Standards in Public Life provisions, the legislation will be just as useless as it is today (or before it was passed), in the absence of mechanisms to identify and investigate violations, and the individual and political will to hold violators accountable.

That being said, our lawmakers must recognize the troubling optics that arise from the appearance of hesitation – or reluctance – to activate legislation intended to fight corruption and promote good governance (specifically among the legislators themselves).

As the Auditor General’s report states, “The fact that the law is not yet in force may also affect public trust and lead to lack of integrity, transparency and accountability.”

In other words, the public may not respond well to lawmakers’ message of “Do as we say we did, not as we actually did.”

Currently, Cayman’s anti-corruption and accountability network is complex, with entities in differing stages of maturation, enjoying various levels of funding, having overlapping areas of responsibilities and also exhibiting gaps in overall oversight. The practical effect is there is a growing list of cases “under investigation” and therefore “not open to public comment,” in areas ranging from the Turtle Centre, to the Cayman Islands Hospital, to immigration and more. Often, the public is left in the dark, not only about what is being investigated, but as to who is doing the investigating and what the status of the investigation is (active, pending, open, closed?).

Setting aside the present morass, there is one non-governmental institution that has proven, over generations, to be far more effective than government at exposing systemic wrongdoing and bringing accountability to bear on the public and private sectors alike. We refer to, of course, journalism in general, and newspapers in particular, such as the one you are reading right now.

If you want to know what’s going on in Cayman’s community – good news, bad news and in between – keep your eye on Page One, and then read the rest of the Compass all the way through.

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