After long and extensive review, the Cayman Islands Standards in Public Life Law will formally come into force on March 1st this year.
The legislation has been on the books for the past six years but has not been implemented.
In updating the Legislative Assembly on the status of the legislation, Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin advised that there have been numerous about the stipulations of the law with outlines the criteria of conduct and disclosures for persons in public life.
While it focuses on government ministers and other public servants, it also extends to private citizens serving on government boards.
The latter has been a point of contention with many board members expressing reservations especially about the disclosure requirements of the law.
Premier McLaughlin reports that after a series of consultations, the law is now ready to be enacted.
In briefing the LA on the Standards in Public Life Law(SPLL), he stated: “It has been a long and involved process…This has been such a long and arduous journey, but we are now almost there.”
The law was first passed in 2014, amended in 2016 after many objections were raised, and further reviewed in 2019.
On the timeline of the process to date, the Premier outlined:
“The reason for the amendments at the time was that after passing the initial Standard in Public Life Law, I and virtually every Government Minister at the time received phone calls and messages from many members of Statutory Authority and Government Company(SAGC) boards and committees stating their concerns with the Law and 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.”
But that 2016 review was not considered to have gone far enough and the legislation was subjected to further amendement.
“The Law was amended in June 2016 to address the identified concerns. However, it was quickly recognised that there were still ongoing concerns by the public, despite the amendments done in 2016,” the Premier explained.
“Those concerns presented the Government at the time with a dilemma; 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.”
The main concern by persons called to serve on government boards, however, remained seemingly intractable.
The main challenge arose mainly from worries over what many considered the intrusive nature of the legislation with implications for confidentiality and privacy.
“The need was to again review the law and proposed regulations and determine where we could draw a better balance; a balance that allowed the public, especially those with particular expertise, to be willing to serve the country without feeling that their personal affairs were being unduly intruded upon whilst at the same time ensuring that the law performed as intended," the Premier reported.
“We also understood that there may be areas where the law was being misunderstood and therefore there was a need for further clarification with SAGC board, committee and commission members."
Premier McLaughlin conceded that “the starting point though was for the Government to again formally consult with boards, committee and commission members to understand what, if any, concerns still existed and how we could resolve the concerns in an even-handed way.”
Further consultations ensued leading to what the Premier says is now a satisfactory and workable outcome.
“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.
“It is our intention, therefore, that at the next meeting of Cabinet that a Commencement Order will be issued to bring the law into force as of 1 March 2020. The Regulations will follow shortly.”
The protracted delay in enacting the vital legislation has been the subject of much speculation and criticism.
In addressing those concerns, Mr McLaughlin sought to put any lingering doubts to rest.
“Mr Speaker, I also wish to point out that 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 expressed regret at the slow pace of the process but pointed out that the government was forced to deal with several competing priorities.
“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. We have been handling many urgent matters, including as we were reminded yesterday, issues to do with protecting our jurisdiction from blacklisting by the EU.
“None-the-less", he said, "I am pleased that we are now there and I assure this Honourable House that the Standards in Public Life Law and Regulations will be in place soon.”
The law is now expected to come into force on March 1st.