Pushing the envelope

| 18/02/2009

According to local news reports, our little band of feisty politicians had great fun in London lecturing the UK Government on how to govern a colony, and on exactly which human rights should be included in a colony’s constitution and which not.

I wonder how accurate the reports really are. It would be interesting to read the UK’s version of events. It can’t be much fun for a British Minister of State, representing sixty million people, to be lectured by MLAs and cronies representing the interests of a mere twenty thousand islanders.
Imagine the FCO (Foreign & Commonwealth Office) lady having to listen politely to a delegation from the Isle of Anglesey or the Orkneys, demanding exemption from Britain’s human-rights obligations. Don’t ask, don’t get, of course; but it must all seem a bit cheeky, over in London.
A bit ungrateful, even. After all, British Governments have invested a great deal of time and effort in Cayman in recent times.

First, they cleared the ground for a self-supporting tax-haven industry; then they encouraged a self-supporting tourism industry. Then they cemented those arrangements by setting us up as the regional base of MI6, the FCO’s spy agency. (This last fact came to light at the infamous EuroBank trial. There’s a fascinating report in The Guardian of 18 January 2003.)

All the while, Britain guaranteed (formally or informally) the Cayman Islands Governments’ borrowings. That gave our Islands the best credit-rating in the region, allowing our politicians to spend the loan funds on giving us the best capital-infrastructure in the Caribbean. We have good reason to be grateful. Our Financial Secretary is an FCO-appointed Civil Servant, responsible to Britain through the Governor. He it is who decides how to tax us all. Our elected MLAs have some say in how Public Revenues are raised, and can recommend new taxes; but the Financial Secretary’s consent is always required.

It was the FCO – acting through an earlier Financial Secretary – who decided that Cayman’s taxes would not include an Income Tax. Or, a few decades ago, an Inheritance Tax or death duties. The Financial Secretary, guided by the FCO, composes the annual government Budgets that set down how the revenue will be spent. Sometimes the FCO, through its local appointees, authorizes expenditures outside the Budget. Constitutionally, it could decide every penny, if it wanted; but mostly it can’t be bothered, and that’s where the elected MLAs come in.

It’s in this general context that one must view the current squabble over which side of our government should pay for what. Our elected MLAs have their knickers in a twist because some of “their” money has been appropriated by the FCO to investigate policemen and judges. Did the FCO waste millions of dollars on unnecessary investigations? Maybe. Probably, for all we know. Is it a big deal, worth risking the anger of the FCO for? Probably not.

Old TV programs sometimes show old movies of the classic Keystone Kops comedies, and The Three Stooges and Tom & Jerry. Clumsy idiots running around like headless chickens into walls and through walls, bumping into each other, bashing everybody over the head with cardboard batons, and always arresting the wrong persons.

Hmmm. Remind you of anyone?

But Mr Bridger’s investigations, the settlement of Judge Henderson’s claim, the enquiry into Judge Levers, the Magic Roundabout of Police Commissioners and their Deputies… All those things are legitimate expenses of the Cayman Islands Government. It makes no sense for anybody to try to make the FCO pay for them. Cayman is a colony. The FCO is our colonial master. Our constitution, imposed on us by the British Government, doesn’t even provide for elected MLAs to reject FCO expenses.

Anyway, the screw-ups of the FCO’s men are very small beer compared with the tens of millions of dollars wasted every year by the elected MLAs on loss-making commercial ventures and bureaucratic empire-building. What about our home-grownscrew-ups, such as the Cayman Airways and DOT boondoggle, Pedro’s Castle, the government Investment Bureau, and all those First Class airfares for overseas junkets. Hundreds of millions down the tubes, there. Let’s face it: the fuss about who is to pay for the Keystone Kops is pure political posturing. Like it or not, Cayman owes its entire prosperity to the FCO. We’d better watch out they don’t get mad and take it away.

If pushed hard enough, the FCO just might get irritated enough to throw up its hands and say, “The hell with it. Do what you want. We’ll take our game somewhere else.” No doubt it would be inconvenient to find a new home for MI6, but it wouldn’t be impossible. The BVI would be happy to offer a home, if it meant taking all Cayman’s tax-haven clients as part of the package. Which it would. Don’t anybody doubt that for a minute. The only doubt of importance is whether our elected MLAs (soon to be called “MPs”, for vanity’s sake) understand that the course they’re on leads directly to full independence from Britain, and what that independence would entail.

Maybe they do understand, and maybe they envisage themselves as heroic rebels against tyranny in the mold of the leaders of the American Revolution. “The British are coming! The British are coming!” Paul Revere warned in panic, galloping around the settlements. For us in Cayman, the shout may be, “The British are going!”

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  1. Anonymous says:

    There is more important forms of UK support than the provision of money.  CI does not need money (if it did it could bring in an income tax).  

    CI does need the reputational support of the UK to support its politicial reputation, legal reputation and financial reputation.  And that support is worth hundred of millions of dollars each year to the Cayman Islands. 

    • Anonymous says:

      Cayman needed money in the wake of Hurricane Ivan and the UK failed to assist. Clearly, the EU recognized that we did and still do need such help. Obviously, the introduction of income tax at that point when we were struggling to be restored and many had written us off as finished was not feasible. Despite all the talk about "contingent liabilities" when a contingent liability actually arose it failed to live up to it.    

  2. Anonymous says:

    Would that support be the same as we got after Ivan?? Or are you referring to the $1 million dollars this country sent to the UK after the Falklands War?? Lets be clear hear, the islands are doing very well because we are a BOTC and no one disputes that fact. But there is NO money coming here from the UK and the a persons in the UK that would like to see us seperated from them.

    Regarding your comment about no firms for Caymanians to work in, that rings true for the Non-Caymanians that have made a life here for themselves and their families as well. So, you should have said that there would be no firms here  for anyone to be promoted!!!




    • Anonymous says:

      Cayman is not doing well simply because it is a BOT. It is doing well because of its political stability, the reputation of our courts etc. This is what the British Govt. is now striving to destroy.  

      One good thing about these topics – they expose hidden malice against Cayman and Caymanians.   

    • Anonymous says:

      Our government turned away a British warship after Ivan. That’s not a rumour. It was in the newspaper..

      • Anonymous says:

        To anonymous 02/19/2009 – 13:43 

        Gasp! It was in a newspaper?! It must be true then!.

        HMS Richmond was not turned away but provided minimal help (tarpaulins, water purification tablets etc.) before leaving. Our Govt. had (and has) no power to turn away a British Warship. The Governor assumed all governmental powers (some of which he then delegated to some compatriots)  under Emergency Powers.  



  3. Anonymous says:

    Well said Gordon!  Without the British support these islands would be finished.  We would not need to worry about Caymanians being promoted as accountants or lawyers as there will be no firms for them to work in.   It is a shame that the FCO caved into the bigotry of the Cayman delegation.  I suspect this cave in will be short lived.  The Cayman constitution is a matter for the UK government first and foremost and the FCO wouldbe betraying its obligations to the UK by ever putting Cayman interests before UK interests.