Head of the Governor’s Office Matthew Forbes is set to depart Cayman next week, bringing an end to his four-year posting.
Forbes may not be a familiar face to many in Cayman, but he was instrumental in procuring police helicopters and COVID-19 testing kits, as well as securing repatriation flights for Indian and Filipino nationals.
On Wednesday night, Governor Martyn Roper hosted a special send-off at Government House for Forbes, who has been his right-hand man for the last two years. He will be replaced by Christine Rowlands.
“Clearly, I’m going to be very sorry to leave the Cayman Islands,” Forbes said. “We’ve had a great time here over the last four years and I think socially it’s been great, but professionally has been really interesting as well.”
Many things had happened during his tenure, he said, adding he may be one of the few in his diplomatic circle to have served under three governors in one term.
When he arrived in Cayman in 2016, Helen Kilpatrick was governor. She was succeeded in 2018 by Anwar Choudhury, whose short-lived term ended after his ‘temporary withdrawal’ under a cloud of mystery. Roper took up the post in late 2018.
Though Choudhury’s departure was linked to staff complaints, the details of those were never released.
Even two years later, the incident remains a curious case for many, but when Forbes sat down with the Compass to discuss his departure, there were no tell-all reveals.
“I’ve worked now with three different governors since I’ve been here. They were very different, and it’s been a really interesting experience,” he said.
Reflecting on his time in Cayman, Forbes said he’s had an active tour. He pointed to the 2017 hurricanes and going to the British Virgin Islands to render assistance; last year’s royal visit of Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall; and the forming of the Cayman Regiment.
“It’s been really interesting getting involved in all of those things… all of the law-and-order issues the Governor’s Office works on and, more recently, on COVID, whether it be looking at how to keep our testing supplies running or getting involved in the British Airways air bridge and organising those. It’s a really diverse job working in the Governor’s Office, and it’s been great,” he said.
Forbes acknowledged that along the way mistakes may have been made, but added, “It’s been fun. I hope we’ve achieved quite a lot.”
He said there have been many highlights during his Cayman tour, but for him, organising the flights for Indian and Filipino nationals stranded here due to COVID will always stay with him.
“I’m really proud of the team that I work with, the work that they’ve done with quite vulnerable members of the community here to actually evacuate many of them,” he said, pointing to the “Indian and Filipino flights we organised quite recently and seeing all of the smiling faces of people getting on the aircraft… in the middle of a crisis…”.
Forbes added that being “able to help people in that way, to me, is what the job’s all about and I’ve really enjoyed that”.
He also assisted in securing the South Korean test kits in April, which have formed the basis of Cayman’s entire COVID-19 testing regime.
“I think it was a risky process because we knew that testing was going to be really important to keep Cayman safe, and we knew that we had to try and get proper supplies,” he said.
At that time, he said, the whole world was scrambling to get the testing kits.
“We followed up a lead that we were given by a local businessman and I remember saying to the governor, we were about to take quite a large gamble with US$4.4 million and, both with the governor and the premier, there was no hesitation. It was important to keep people safe here that we did that,” Forbes said.
He said he and his family will be returning to the UK after living abroad for 11 years. In addition to his wife Lydia and son William, who are in Cayman with him, three children – Charles, Alex and Jemima – live in the UK.
While he is leaving Cayman’s COVID-19 safe ‘bubble’, Forbes said he’s not too worried about the UK coronavirus situation.
“I live in a very old cottage in a little village in Kent, so it’s away from a lot of people,” he said, adding, “I can… [keep] away from people if I want to, so I’m not too worried. We learned lessons here on how to keep people safe.”
Governor Roper, in statement announcing Forbes’ departure, said “Everyone on our Islands owes him a debt of gratitude for his outstanding service over the last four years. I am grateful for his support to me when I arrived at the end of October 2018 in challenging circumstances after the early departure of my predecessor.”
He said Forbes has great drive, energy and determination to deliver practical outcomes to improve the lives of people.
“He has shown the very best public service ethos and customer service. He has helped deliver significant results in a wide range of areas. I am particularly grateful for his work on Covid 19, where his contribution on testing was genuinely game-changing. He has also worked closely with the R3 Foundation and philanthropists keen to support our response to Covid. He leaves with a proud record of achievement, and I wish him and Lydia all the best for the future.”
Premier Alden McLaughlin also added his commendation of Forbes in a statement on Thursday, saying, “Matthew has played a key role in assisting the two administrations that I have led as Premier in achieving several important Government priorities. His efforts helping with the development of the Cayman Islands Coastguard, and the merger of the Customs and the Immigration departments into a single cohesive and modern Customs and Border Control unit was stellar.”
He also highlighted that Forbes played a “key role” in the creation of the regiment and the purchase of the COVID-19 test kits.
“This was vital in the success we have had to date in controlling the virus. On behalf of my Government and the people of the Cayman Islands, I thank Matthew for his contribution and wish both him and Lydia all the best for their future,” the premier said.
Rowlands,who will replace Forbes, is a diplomat with 30 years’ experience.
According to the Governor’s Office statement, Rowlands has completed overseas assignments in Washington, D.C., during which she was made a Member of the Victorian Order for personal services to her Majesty The Queen in Kuwait, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and Brussels.
Most recently, she was deputy head of the Latin America Department in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.