After four years as the United Kingdom’s top representative in Cayman, Governor Stuart Jack left the islands in December. Some will remember him as a force for good governance, others will regard him as the governor who contributed to a sense of division between the UK and Cayman. Before his departure Mr Jack spoke with Cayman Financial Review about his time in the Cayman Islands.
Entering Government House the first thing of note are the two dozen cardboard boxes that are awaiting pick-up in the entrance hall. The governor’s official departure is still a few days away, but most of his belongings are already on the move.
Being slightly early I wait in the lounge and take a look at the immaculately manicured garden overlooking Seven Mile Beach and a particularly bright blue patch of the sea. Tourists are strolling behind the garden fence and jet skis roar past in the distance, only partly obscured by the Casuarina trees.
It is rumoured that the sale of the governor’s residence, a property on prime land and reportedly worth over $90 million, could immediately solve Cayman’s financial woes.
I can see the governor sharing the view in the adjacent room. He is reading the newspaper, enjoying his breakfast and what I assume to be a cup of tea.
Nothing in Governor Stuart Jack’s looks or demeanour would suggest the controversy he has caused with many of the local politicians and some of the residents. A relatively small, softly-spoken man with glasses who wears comfortable shoes, he is apparently not someone who relishes confrontation or the limelight for that matter. As the photographer asks him to pose for a portrait, some tension starts to show on his face. Unlike many politicians he does not have a camera smile, nor does he seem to want one.
Governor’s House, Seven Mile Beach
Relationship with the media
He remains tense as we start the interview, a tension that had also shaped his relation with the press throughout his time in the Cayman Islands. When asked why his relationship to the media had been somewhat subdued, he replies: “I will be quite blunt about this. A governor, if he says something he will get criticised and if he does not say something he gets criticised. You can’t win.”
In many instances he was also not able to say anything, he argues, in particular with regard to the investigations into corruption and misconduct in the Royal Cayman Islands Police Force, an institution for which the governor has responsibility, even under the new constitution.
“Where I had to be quiet was in connection with police investigations, because the lawyers would not let me say anything,” he says.
“I said this publicly a couple of times, I look forward to the day, that is still a little while away, when the whole story will come out. There are a lot of things I’d love to say, but I can’t.”
Governor will be remembered for investigations
The investigations, which until now, have not produced any meaningful results other than astonishingly high costs to the government, sparked much controversy and personal animosity between Cayman politicians and the governor. Many believe that Stuart Jack brought a change to the role of the governor. Independent MLA for North Side, Ezzard Miller, said the Cayman Islands had seen a “seismic shift” in the role of governors, who instead of looking out for the interests of the overseas territory to which they were appointed, now look out only for the interests of the UK.
Some even think the governor was part of a conspiracy, according to which the UK wants to see Cayman fail and force the islands to introduce direct taxation to weaken their competitive position compared to the City of London.
In his blog, which he used extensively as a communication tool during his last months in office, the governor described this theory as “rubbish”, which according to himself is a “strong word for a mildly spoken governor”. When commencing his role he wanted “to do the best for the Cayman Islands, because that is what the job is all about.” He says his objectives coming into the job were to ensure that, following Hurricane Ivan, the Cayman Islands had good robust hurricane plans, if possible to see a new constitution and generally to work with the government and the people of Cayman in the interests of good governance and a safe and prosperous Cayman Islands.
With regard to the investigations he maintains his approach was not deliberate.
“Essentially it was circumstance. Certain prima facie evidence arrived at my desk and everything that I have done has been driven by, at least some, initial evidence.”
“Only if evidence and legal advice, I have never done anything without legal advice, […] indicate there appears to be something here that is potentially serious and needs to be investigated, then you go on and investigate it.”
This was done within the context of the high standards of public service and in the interest of “clean and open government”, Mr Jack says. He denies that he had ever gone out “fishing or hunting”.
“There are enough problems to deal with, without doing that. But presented with something that looks serious you cannot ignore it. You want to turn a blind eye? Is that going to solve anything? I don’t think so.”
Circumstances meant that he had to take decisions, or support people who were taking decisions, which put him on the front pages of the newspapers and caused disagreement with certain people, he says.
As a result it certainly would appear that the role of the governor had changed, but he does not think that the constitutional responsibilities of the governor are any different now.
“Even under the new constitution they have not fundamentally changed. But when faced with the circumstance, I felt that I had to do my job.”
With hindsight his handling of the investigations would not be different, he declares unmoved. “Well, we all learn from experience and …not everything went as expected, but I do think it was right to start the process and it is right to continue the process through to its conclusion. We still have these ongoing investigations called CEALT and they have to be seen through. At the end of the day it is up to the next governor or police commissioner to stand up and say to the best of my knowledge there are no shadows hanging over the police service.”
The fact that there have not been any convictions as a result of the investigations as yet is not a problem in the eyes of Mr Jack, who argues that the best possible outcome for the Cayman Islands would be if the initial evidence could not be validated. However, some local politicians have taken a different view and felt the ongoing investigations harmed the image of the Cayman Islands.
Relationship with Cabinet soured
Over time the relationship between the governor and Cabinet members soured on a personal and professional level. Member of the Legislative Assembly and former Minister of Education Alden McLaughlin told the Legislative Assembly in October 2009: “One of my greatest disappointments I had in my tenure as a minister was the day, about six months after this governor took office, when I came to understand that this man had no trust in anyone sitting around the table – absolutely no trust.”
Mr McLaughlin said the relationship between the UK and the Cayman Islands had led to a situation where the British representative on island was “without blemish, without flaw, but the mere fact that you’ve been elected has somehow tarnished you in a way that he can’t trust you to impart vital information relating to affairs of the country.”
The governor objects to this: “There were some difficult moments on the police and things which I could not tell them and perfectly rightly could not tell them, but I tried to be as informative as I could.”
As an example, he cites his invitation to the then Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts to participate in the governor’s weekly meetings with the police commissioner, which was the main way the police informed him.
“I made that invitation and previously the government ministers attended on a number of occasions. That was trying to be more informative, more transparent.”
For the vast majority of time, whether it was the previous cabinet or the current one, “we worked perfectly cooperatively”, Mr Jack says. The role of the governor is about helping the Cayman Islands, he states, and whenever he was asked for advice he gave it and when he could facilitate, for instance when it came to negotiating Tax Information Exchange Agreements, he would travel to Europe with the current Premier and do so.
“Most things are for them to decide. The governor does not intervene. But on most things we had perfectly harmonious relationships.”
High professional standards
Asked whether the standards of professional conduct in public service needed to be tackled in the Cayman Islands, he states that in every democratic society people need to be reminded once in a while. “But I don’t think for one moment that this is a particularly corrupt place. I can look around other jurisdictions, some not too far away, that have greater problems than I have ever found here,” he says.
“So you have to try and keep things in perspective, but that does not mean that there are not things that can always improve.”
Even so, many things have already improved. The governor praises the previous government for bringing in freedom of information legislation, which he thinks is “absolutely brilliant”, and which he says the local press has made good use of. While it causes all kinds of problems for civil servants and politicians, these are the kinds of problems a government probably should have, he states.
The new anti-corruption law and commission will be “a further toughening up of standards”, Mr Jack believes.
“It is a very tough piece of legislation and everyone who is involved in public service, not just elected officials, not just civil servants, [but also] people who serve on statutory boards and members of the public who deal with them need to be aware and be careful that they don’t find themselves doing something which is on the wrong side of this legislation.”
Checks and balances
Mr Jack does not agree that the role of the governor is essentially a checks and balances function. He believes the nature of the Cayman constitution and the relationship with the UK is very specific and while distinct from the constitutions of independent states, it still featured a considerable amount of checks and balances.
He lists the Legislative Assembly and the elections as the ultimate check, the complaints commissioner, the Human Rights Commission, the auditor general as well as a “good” legal and judicial system in the Cayman Islands that is used by the people.
“People do sue government, do seek judicial review; I know that from personal experience,” he emphasises. The new constitution has established further checks and balances such as the Committee for Standards in Public Life. “And something that I think is an important feature of the new constitution, which [represents] further checks and balances, is that most of these committees will have non-political members of the public. Involving people more is part of the checks and balances. And we have freedom of information; which jurisdiction has that?”
Given those features of the political systems and provided that the checks work, he does not “feel that government can get away with very much.”
While Cayman is therefore becoming even more robust as far as its political system is concerned, there are other strategic areas that still need to be addressed.
Cayman needs a vision
One of the things Cayman is lacking desperately, according to the governor, is a vision and national consensus for the future.
“I think something which the Cayman Islands badly needs to do is to think of the long-term future. What sort of islands do people want to hand down to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” he says.
“Start from that point and then once you are clear what you are trying to achieve, what the right balance is between protecting your heritage and change; and protecting the environment and development; and all those sort of issues; once you are clear where you are trying to end up, then you can take individual decisions, whether it is on development projects, whether it is on education, whether it is on social schemes,” he adds.
“You got to know what the end game is and I don’t feel that enough people have that sort of vision for the future.”
While this was partly due to a lack of planning, it was also due to a lack of a national debate and a national consensus. When something similar was started with the Vision 2008, the governor says that in 2008 he was probably one of a few people who still remembered it, even though he only read it and was not involved in the process.
“That was a very comprehensive, possibly over-complicated, series of recommendations. But there needs to be something against which the politicians and the business men can make their plans.”
Another long-term issue the governor has highlighted several times during his time in the Cayman Islands and an issue which “has to go up the agenda” is climate change.
“There is actually a workshop this week, which is going to discuss climate change in the Cayman Islands. These are low-lying islands, the sea level is rising, scientists think that hurricanes are going to become stronger, coral is going to get bleached and so on.”
He urges the people of the Cayman Islands to start doing something about this now and not to wait until the effects can be felt.
“People have got to think about that and in my view it has to be a major responsibility for the government and that may involve a few difficult decisions, like the change of building regulations, planning regulations and so on.”
A more immediate challenge for the Cayman Islands is how to deal with the global economic crisis and a changing world in the financial markets. In order for Cayman to maintain its status as one of the world’s major financial centres the governor believes that “there is a role for the government and there is a very big role for the industry itself”.
The industry has to find ways to get new business and develop the products needed to take advantage of the changing international financial environment. It is business that has to go out and find the opportunities, he says, but government can help by being responsive to the needs of the industry.
“I think that the financial services industry here ought to have, and I am fairly confident will have, a good future, but it will not be exactly the same as it has been for the last few years.”
He stresses the expertise and the quality of service that is provided in the Cayman Islands. This included fundamentally the Cayman judicial system.
“The Cayman Islands, like the industry, is going to prosper if it continues to do what it does do now, which is to meet high international standards.
There are still many people out there in the world who associate the Cayman Islands with money laundering, which is not true. One of the things I tried to do in my small way as governor is to get that message across in London and elsewhere.”
In this context he mentions the Foot report on the UK’s offshore financial centres, which he thinks is supportive of the Cayman Islands and which “busts a few myths” about OFCs. But it also includes some lessons, requiring the Cayman Islands to think long term and be prepared to change, he says.
Helping the Cayman youth
Leaving the islands Mr Jack says he will take many positive memories with him, but also the regret that during his time in Cayman more could have been done for young people. He says he did his bit in trying to raise the issue and support youth organisations, but as a governor he has much less responsibility and power than the public seems to think.
“I would have liked to see more progress in terms of providing a constructive future for particularly the more disadvantaged kids; the kids that do not automatically do well at school.”
However, he is reasonably optimistic that this is an area that both the government and the community is interested in and there are really good mentoring schemes in the Cayman Islands, he says. Although the government budget is currently stretched, Mr Jack believes that helping young people in Cayman is only partially a question of money.
“The country needs more mentors, particularly men, to come forward and provide role models for some of these kids. If the will is there, the money that is needed can be found. First and foremost it is all about the people.”