Standards in Public Life Law to begin in March

Almost six years after its passage, the Standards in Public Life Law will take effect on 1 March, Premier Alden McLaughlin announced in the Legislative Assembly on Friday.

He said the Cabinet intends to make a commencement order for the long-awaited legislation, which sets out ethical standards for politicians and people who serve on public boards and statutory authorities.

The premier said the accompanying regulations for the law will follow shortly.

“I do regret that we have been unable to move this review along at a faster pace, but it is not that government has been sitting on our hands,” McLaughlin said as he defended what he called “a long and involved process”.

He explained that government has been handling many urgent matters, including issues to do with protecting Cayman from being blacklisted by the European Union.

Amendments were made to the law back in 2016 following concerns raised by members of statutory authority and government company boards and committees.

“Indeed, we had real threats of resignations from members of the public who were giving their time to serve on public boards and committees. And so, the law was not brought into effect until a review could be done,” McLaughlin said.

Last year, the Auditor General’s Office, in its report on fighting corruption in the Cayman Islands, had called for government to enact the law, as well as fully implement its anti-fraud policy, which was issued in May 2017.

The premier said even after the law was amended in June 2016, “it was quickly recognised that there were still ongoing concerns by the public, despite the amendments done in 2016”.

He said government was presented with a dilemma at that time.

“The same dilemma we had in 2014 – should we bring into force the law as amended and still risk many resignations from key government SAGC’s boards, committees, and commissions, or should we set it aside until we had an opportunity to have another look. We chose the latter approach,” McLaughlin added.

Under the 2016 amended legislation, board members do not have to declare memberships in any professional group, charity or special interest organisation. Interest-disclosure requirements for appointed board members extend only to their immediate family – spouses and dependents – and are to be declared only when the board member holds property or manages anything on behalf of that person or if that person manages something for the board member. The 2017 elections delayed the review process of the amended legislation.

Last May, McLaughlin said, he wrote to chairpersons of all statutory boards and government companies to poll their board members to understand what concerns they had with the law as amended.

“In the latter quarter of 2019, sufficient feedback was received for an analysis to be done by the Attorney General’s Chambers, as well as the Commission Secretariat. It was determined that some additional changes were still required, but these could be done via the proposed regulations,” he said.

McLaughlin said he intends, at the next Cabinet meeting, to issue a commencement order to bring the law into force.

“I will say again that what is important… is that on this occasion we get it right, so we do not have the concern again of mass departures from important government boards. We will also include a public education campaign as part of the roll-out of the law,” he said.

He said that has been “such a long and arduous journey, but we are now almost there”.
McLaughlin pointed out that even though there was a delay with the legislation, there are still checks and balances in place.

“Despite what some protagonists and naysayers in some parts of the media like to infer, the initial delay in bringing the law into effect had nothing to do with elected members not wanting to make our interests known. We in this House are required by law to provide, and update, annually the register prescribed by the Register of Interest Law at the Legislative Assembly,” he said.

Additionally, he said, many senior civil servants, including chief officers, heads of departments, and anyone dealing with financial transactions, are required by law to file their interests yearly and these are audited by the Auditor General’s Office, annually.

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