Can our Offshore industry survive?

| 14/04/2009

Recently, Cayman hosted several visiting journalists, here to report on our Offshore industry ahead of the London meeting of the world’s twenty strongest economic powers.

One topic on the Meeting’s agenda is how to put Offshore centres out of business. Our government’s Public Relations Unit has circulated an advisory to local persons expected to be interviewed – Offshore professionals, politicians, etc. Maybe the political lobbyists among our church leaders – who knows?

The Unit’s basic advice is this. 1) Avoid giving an answer if you possibly can, 2) avoid looking into the camera, 3) don’t punch anybody. My son, a veteran of TV interviews in three languages, tells me that looking to the side of the camera sometimes makes a person look shifty, on the screen. So let’s hope he’s wrong about that. The last thing we need our chaps to do in the present climate is to look shifty.
All international tax-havens are under the gun these days. Cayman is the Number One target, and is particularly vulnerable at this time, for the following two reasons.

The first gentle puffs of the global economic hurricane have frightened our MLAs into tightening up on the issuance of Work Permits, including for tax-haven professionals. The Offshore sector’s morale, already sapped by the retrospective rollover decree, now has to cope with deliberate delays in Work Permit applications, including renewals.

And, the upcoming general election has frightened all the candidates into bringing the customary anti-immigrant rhetoric down from the shelf. (Overseas readers should note that every candidate for MLA – and indeed almost every appointment to a State Board – must have at least one ethnic Caymanian parent. It’s Cayman’s version of apartheid.) The tensions caused by the anti-immigrant sentiments of our ruling ethnic group are a major distraction at the best of times. 70% of our population has no long-term stake in the success of the community they live in.

When any of that 70% are called on to comment on the virtues and competence of Cayman’s regulators or legislators, they are well aware that their companies’ Work Permits are on the line. They dare not tell the truth, if the truth is not compatible with their rulers’ advertised self-image. Practised liars can and will happily express faith in thesuperior intelligence and morality of the authorities who bully them; but not everybody is a practiced liar. Some people find it difficult to sound convincing, when praising the talents and capabilities of their masters.

We who live in the shadow of the anti-immigrant monster can usually tell when one of us is lying about it. And at least some of our visiting journalists must be experienced enough to sniff out the lies.
Our Government’s advisory is silent on how to deal with that situation. The Public Relations Unit can’t afford to be candid, any more than the rest of us.

Unfortunately, our MLAs are so captive to tribal loyalties that they can’t bring themselves to give an inch in the matter of immigrant participation in government, or to override the traditions of crony-politics and expat-bashing. They hold Cayman’s First World comforts and lifestyle in their sweaty hands, and they are on the verge of spilling them.

(Any concessions would have to last well beyond the G-20 Meeting in London, by the way. For the high-tax nations, this anti-Offshore crusade is a “Long War”. This time, they’re in it for the long haul.)
It’s an open question whether Britain has already decided to pull the plug on Cayman in order to placate its European partners. There will never be any public announcement of it, either way. The FCO doesn’t work like that. In my opinion, the decision probably has been taken to pull out.

If our immigrants and natives were to begin speaking from a common position, the evil day might be postponed; but as things stand, it is probably too late now. Our overseas enemies will discredit us however they can. They have plenty of ammunition. In the battle of images, our position is weak. We are the bad guys. Our image is of a dealer in dirty money, an enabler of billionaires’ scams, and a hiding-place for their billions.

We would not have that image if our political rulers had had foresight and if our business leaders had found the courage to stand up to them. Unfortunately, all we can hope for, it seems, is a message from a state propaganda unit to remember not to look into cameras – and, in effect, not to tell the truth. Ours is surely a lost cause.

Our image is not helped by our politicians’ record for breaking international promises. Sure, the boys are hustling around signing disclosure treaties with all and sundry, and that looks good. But how much faith can they (the all and sundry) have in Cayman’s word, when its government flouts its obligation to respect international human-rights treaties?

On the very same days that our lads are promising on their ancestors’ graves that they oppose money-laundering, they’re fighting tooth and nail to enshrine arbitrary discrimination in a constitutional Bill of Rights. A community that can so readily stoop to laundering human rights is not going to baulk at laundering the proceeds of criminal conduct.

Yes, the two things are linked. Cheating is as cheating does.

 

 

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