Amid turbulent times for the relationship between the Cayman Islands and the U.K., Governor Martyn Roper sees himself as “the bridge” between the two countries.
Parachuted into the role late last year on a temporary basis after the controversial and unexplained recall of his predecessor Anwar Choudhury, Mr. Roper was recently appointed to the job for a four-year term.
With the Cayman Islands government claiming “betrayal” and calling for constitutional reform after a U.K. decision to enforce public beneficial ownership registers on its territories, Mr. Roper arrived at an interesting time.
Four months into the job, the governor believes he has already done much to restore “trust and confidence.”
“I hope I have demonstrated that I am here to do my best for the Cayman Islands,” Mr. Roper said in a broad-ranging interview with the Cayman Compass.
He sees next month’s Royal visit from the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, as a symbolic but important sign of mellowing tensions.
Mr. Roper has developed a close-working relationship with Premier Alden McLaughlin and traveled with him to New York last month to promote Cayman’s financial services industry. He will be deeply involved with efforts to set up a new Ministry of International Trade, including the establishment of a Cayman office in Hong Kong.
“Since I have arrived, I have focused on trying to rebuild the trust and confidence that was lost to some extent last year,” he added.
“I don’t think we have got completely back to where we would like to be but good progress is being made.”
He accepts there will be times when the U.K.’s view differs from that of Cayman, but insists he is not bound to take the side of the mother country in all cases.
“I see myself as the Governor of the Cayman Islands. I am here to promote and support the interests of the people on the Cayman Islands.
“I am also a representative of the U.K. and there has to be balance but I also have the right to take a different view to London. I see my role as a bridge. It is about trying to help ensure the views of Cayman are understood in London and are pushed in London.”
Getting to know Cayman
Mr. Roper, who starts each day with a brisk run along Seven Mile Beach, has quickly grown to love the Cayman Islands. When he is not working or attending events in an official capacity, he enjoys paddleboarding along the beach. He is proud of his strong social media presence and followers of his Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts get regular insights into his life on the islands.
He sees these updates as another way of expanding access to the governor and increasing awareness about his role.
As he sees it, a lot of the work of the Governor’s Office takes place behind the scenes. But he says significant contributions are being made in important areas.
While there have been calls in some quarters for the U.K. to act with a heavier hand on certain human rights issues, including same-sex marriage and Cuban asylum issues, Mr. Roper believes more can be achieved through compromise and partnership.
He declined to comment specifically on same-sex marriage while the issue is being considered by the courts.
But in general terms, he suggested his approach on a number of controversial issues would be to provide guidance and support to help the Cayman Islands make positive changes.
Human Rights issues
The Human Rights Commission has highlighted concerns about the length of time Cuban migrants are detained in the Cayman Islands while their asylum applications are processed.
There are also ongoing issues over conditions at the prison. Crime, spanning the gamut from local concerns like rogue motorcyclists to international issues like money laundering and terror financing, also falls within the governor’s purview.
In each of these areas, he suggested the U.K. was providing practical support rather than attempting to impose directives from London.
The Governor’s Office has provided expert judges from the U.K.’s First Tier Tribunals to help set up a Cayman Refugee Protection Appeals Tribunal. The hope is that body will enable applications to be processed swiftly, so when a boat lands in the jurisdiction, its passengers are either sent back to Cuba or given some legal status and protection within a short period.
He says similar support has been provided to train a new independent monitoring board that will provide an extra check and balance on the prison.
On crime, he has re-established the moribund National Security Committee, which brings politicians, police leaders and NGOs together to make key strategic decisions. The U.K.’s National Crime Agency is being seconded to compile a strategic assessment of the broad threats facing the territory.
U.K.-funded experts have also been closely involved with reforming the way allegations of crimes against children are investigated, establishing a new Border Force for immigration and customs and setting up a new coast guard. Mr. Roper counts securing a new helicopter for search and rescue in Cayman and disaster relief in the region as one of the early achievements of his tenure.
“There is a lot happening and we are moving forward in a spirit of partnership to do our best for the people of Cayman Islands.
“When I look back at the first four months, I am very pleased with how that is going on in terms of nurturing a stronger U.K.-Cayman relationship,” he said.
A report by a Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, published after this interview, will not have helped matters. The report raised the prospect of an Order in Council on same-sex marriage and raised the controversial prospect of allowing non-Caymanians to run for office.
The Governor’s Office released a statement Friday indicating it was aware of the report and that the U.K. government would respond in due course.
On Saturday, the governor published on his Twitter, “I fully understand the concerns expressed about the UK Foreign Affairs Committee report on voting rights. It is important to be clear that these are recommendations from a House of Commons Parliamentary Committee. They do not (not) reflect the government’s policy.
“The government will reply in due course. I will ensure that the strong feelings this has aroused across our islands are fully explained to the FCO.”
Premier Alden McLaughlin appeared to accept that the report, while filled with concerning recommendations, was not the voice of the British government.
“The FCO committee is not a government committee. It is a committee of the Parliament,” he said at Thursday’s Chamber of Commerce legislative luncheon. “It’s views don’t necessarily represent the views of the government. They don’t have power to impose on territory; they make recommendations.”
For his part, Mr. Roper seems to prefer partnership and compromise.
Speaking before the publication of that report, he said he expected the overseas territories to become more important to the U.K. in a post-Brexit world.
“There is a lot of noise and uncertainty at the moment around Brexit, which is understandable, but let’s step back and once we have gone through all that, under global Britain, the overseas territories will be an even stronger part of that U.K. family and U.K. policy.”