LoGB Press Briefing Statements
Good morning to our many viewers and listeners. Good morning to you, members of the media.
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 10th meeting of the Overseas Territories Consultative Council in London. This annual conference is hosted by the Government of the United Kingdom for a specific purpose. It allows the Governments of UK Overseas Territories to engage in an important exchange of views and ideas on policy issues with the relevant UK Government ministers and officials. An eight-member Cayman Islands Government delegation participated.
This year's OTCC meeting was extra important for another reason. It presented the first opportunity for the OT leaders to meet the new UK Minister for Overseas Territories, The Honourable Gillian Merron, following her appointment. We interacted with her at two levels: collectively, as she chaired the OTCC meeting and also on a one-on-one basis through a series of bilaterals which took place outside of the conference.
I had a brief, but most productive bilateral with Minister Merron last Thursday. It was essentially a get-to-know-you meeting. Both myself and Minister McLaughlin brought her up-to-date on issues of specific interest and concern to the Cayman Islands. We listened to her perspective on these issues and briefly examined possible ways forward. I came away quite satisfied that the basis of a good working relationship had been established.
Altogether, the OTCC meeting took a number of decisions which I will attempt to summarize for your benefit. Among them, an agreement that next year's conference would include a separate forum to review progress resulting from the landmark 1999 UK White Paper entitled Partnership for Progress and Prosperity. If you recall correctly, this white paper had outlined proposals for the basis of the UK's continuing relationship with its Overseas Territories. It called, among other things, for Constitutional Modernization, which we in the Cayman Islands are currently seeking to conclude.
We also looked at the European Union Green Paper proposing modernization of the OT's relationship with the European Union. This matter will be further discussed later this month when the Cayman Islands host the EU/OCT Forum. The UK sees modernization of relations between the OT and the EU as an integral part of the UK's strategy to manage specific challenges which globalization presents for UK OTs.
The 2008 OTCC meeting recommitted the OTs to the principles of good governance as agreed at the 2006 Conference. Additionally, it was decided that the UK and the OTs would work together to address the potential impact of climate change on the OTs and to promote sustainable environmental policies. The UK also said it would support and encourage regional initiatives among the OTs that promote cooperation in disaster management, the environment and criminal justice.
As was expected, there was considerable discussion related to the financial services industry. It was agreed, among other things, that the UK and the OTs would cooperate to develop and deliver a Financial Services Strategy aimed at supporting effective regulatory and law enforcement systems. The idea is to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, corruption and bribery in keeping with international standards. The issue of Tax Information Exchange Agreements with the UK and other OECD member countries was discussed and the UK offered to assist the OTs to stay informed of progress on EU and other international agreements relating to financial services.
Members of the Cayman team also met with representatives of the UK Treasury to discuss the issue of tax information exchange and the attitude of OECD member states in the wake of the global financial crisis. The Cayman Islands were commended for the progress we have made in developing a robust, effective anti-money laundering and counter terrorism financing regime and were encouraged that the UK is keen to hold another round of talks with the Cayman Islands early next year with a view to reaching agreement on tax information exchange.
Quite a bit has been said in the past few days by persons who are obviously not well informed about decisions related to the financial services industry. They were not at the OTCC conference and are passing off as fact their opinions formed on the basis of second hand information. Their motives are quite obvious. Let me assure you that the Government understands the value of the financial services industry to the Caymanian economy. We are working quietly and assiduously to promote and protect our vital interests. Later, I will list some specific actions this Government is either considering or has already taken in this regard.
I also appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee along with other OT's heads of government and discussed a number of issues arising from their recent report on the Overseas Territories.
The team also hosted a reception to interact with the Friends of Cayman and the All Party Parliamentary Group and we were delighted to host a reception to meet with our students in the UK pursuing their tertiary education. This was indeed one of the highlights of our visit.
During the London trip we also had the opportunity to host a round table breakfast discussion with some key players in the UK financial services sector. This was a very useful exercise in that it provided an opportunity for us to gain perspective on how the Cayman Islands are perceived by this important sector, particularly in light of the present global financial circumstances. Generally speaking, impressions of Cayman the services and the products we offer are good. However, concerns were raised about the cloud of uncertainty and instability which hangs over our law enforcement and judiciary as a result of certain actions taken over the last nine months. Questions raised in London clearly indicate that key players are watching and are concerned about these developments.
Ironically, as these discussions were taking place in London, the Judicial Review proceedings brought by Mr. Justice Henderson challenging his arrest was determined in his favour. The case raised a number of serious questions about the manner in which the special investigator, Mr Bridger, has gone about the task assigned to him. There seems to have been almost total disregard for the rule of law and the constitution. I refer in particular to the circumventing of the Attorney General and his constitutional function and Mr. Bridger's apparent lack of respect for our courts system and our judiciary. Furthermore, after nine months of investigating, he is yet to produce concrete evidence to justify various actions taken, including the suspension of the top leadership of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
As we have said previously, the elected government is gravely concerned about the conduct of the various investigations that are underway by Mr. Bridger and his team of a dozen UK police officers. We conveyed these concerns to the Minister with responsibility for the Overseas Territories, Ms. Gillian Merron during our private discussions with her last week. In the wake of the Ruling by Sir Peter Cresswell last week, upon our return from the UK, we have called upon the Governor to bring these investigations to a close and to dispatch Mr. Bridger and his team from these Islands forthwith. We must shut this down and take whatever steps necessary to bring closure to this disgraceful and terribly damaging episode in Cayman's history. And we must take whatever steps never to restore public trust in our judicial and police systems both locally and internationally.
We have also conveyed to the Governor our grave dissatisfaction with the appointment of yet another temporary Commissioner of Police. It is past time for the whole Kernohan affair to be brought to a close and a new permanent commissioner appointed. The present state of uncertainty which has existed for the past nine months is unsatisfactory, is adversely affecting morale within the Police and we believe compromising the effectiveness of the Service.
As promised, I turn now to deal with the issue of the present threats to our financial services sector. There has been quite a bit of commentary both from the OECD and locally about moves by the OECD to revert to a listing exercise --- a 'green list', in fact, not a 'black list' - and what this might mean for Cayman.
Firstly, we need to understand that this is not localized 'OECD weather': this is reflective of the overall operating climate generated by the recent period of global financial turmoil. I say that to say this: your government knows that Cayman's positioning has to take account of the big picture - and a picture which is still emerging.
Secondly, it needs to be understood that the government is not blind-sided by OECD developments -- in fact, quite the opposite: we have been active participants in the OECD exercise since 2000, in particular as a member of the OECD subcommittee, known as the 'level playing field sub-group' whose work is ongoing and has direct input on OECD developments in the area of transparency and exchange of information in tax matters. This is part of our policy of constructive engagement, the other element being bilateral discussions with OECD member states about cooperation arrangements specific to the tax area.
Despite the degeneration in the discourse from the OECD side referred to by Minister McLaughlin, we intend to continue with our policy of constructive engagement. We do this because we've done our analysis with a clear eye and a cool head, on all the available facts, in consultation, and from an 'insider's' vantage point; and we are confident on that basis that we will achieve the right results for the Cayman Islands [in the right arena and at the right time [- not late]].
As will be appreciated, due to protocols surrounding negotiations and participation in inter-governmental forums such as the level playing field sub-group, we are not able to provide details on discussions and negotiations and we would ask that this be respected. However, be assured that we know what needs to be done, we are doing it, and intend to do it successfully.
Thank you ladies and gentlemen. I will now take your questions.
Last month the Members of the Legislative Assembly gave unanimous support to the passing of the Immigration (Amendment) Bill 2008. Although the Bill contained a considerable number of amendments, one of the most important was the introduction of a requirement that guest workers must submit to their fingerprints being taken and recorded. This measure gave rise to considerable interest in the media and with the public at the time and was the focus of much positive comment by Members of both sides of the House in their contributions to the debate on the Bill. This is a highly important step in our efforts to combat and prevent immigration and identity crime. I will say more about that shortly but I would first like to spend a few minutes outlining how this new requirement will work in practice.
As I mentioned, the Bill proposing the introduction of these new requirements has passed through the parliamentary stages. It will become law upon receiving Assent by His Excellency The Governor. When this happens, the law will require an application for the grant or renewal of a work permit to be accompanied by a written undertaking by the worker to submit to being fingerprinted and to their fingerprints being recorded electronically. In practice, what will happen is that by signing a work permit application form the worker is agreeing that they will submit to having their fingerprints taken and recorded. In the case of a person already employed in the Islands this consent will be given when their next work permit renewal application is submitted. In the case of a person coming to take up employment in the Islands their consent will have been obtained when they signed the first temporary work permit or annual work permit application form.
The second stage of the process is the actual taking and recording of the fingerprints. For persons already working here this will take place shortly after their next work permit renewal. The person will be required to attend Immigration Headquarters within seven days of receiving notification that the renewal application was approved and have their fingerprints recorded by an electronic scanner. For persons coming to take up employment, their fingerprints will be taken when they arrive at the airport. In both cases the process will be quick and easy. Once the fingerprints are taken, they will automatically be checked against our database and should this raise any flags, then appropriate steps will be taken.
I mentioned at the beginning that this is a highly important step in our efforts to combat and prevent immigration and identity crime. It is exactly that - a step. By virtue of the fact that we are starting from scratch it will take about two years to obtain anything like a complete record of all guest workers residing here. This is based on the fact that all work permits are in the vast majority of cases issued for a period of two years or less. However, considering that there are presently some 27,000 guest workers here, this will ultimately be a valuable source of data.
The benefits of having a database of fingerprints are clear. It will enable our Immigration Officers to detect persons who are seeking to use a false identity in order to gain entry, perhaps because they have previously committed crimes here and as such are prohibited immigrants. Persons may also seek to use a false identity because they are criminals in other countries and are already known to international law enforcement agencies. A fingerprint database will also be a considerable asset to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service when investigating crimes. For example, police officers who have obtained fingerprint evidence from the scene of a crime will be allowed search the Immigration Department database for matches.
While the introduction of fingerprinting for guest workers is a positive move, I must acknowledge that this has limitations. For example, checks against this database will only reveal if a person has previously come to the attention of law enforcement agencies in the Cayman Islands and if the person has never worked before in the Cayman Islands we will have no record of them. The next step is to gain access to regional and international criminal record databases. I can say that officials are already in contact with overseas law enforcement agencies with a view to sharing fingerprint information. Clearly, this would greatly enhance our ability to detect persons who we should not be allowing to live or work in our Islands.
Another limitation is that for the moment the fingerprinting requirements only apply to work permit holders. But consideration is being given to extending the requirements to other groups of person. For example, visa nationals may be required to give their fingerprints when making a visa application overseas. As part of the vetting of the application their fingerprints would be checked against our database and persons for whom we should not be issuing a visa will hopefully be detected at that stage before they reach our borders. This approach is presently being introduced worldwide by the UK Border Agency.
I would like to end by saying that the Government is fully committed to implementing whatever measures are necessary to ensure that our Islands are safe for our families and for those who visit us. We understand that there is a need to move quickly and that fingerprinting of guest workers is an important element of this. But it is equally important to ensure that we choose the very best system for our needs both now and in the future. This system must meet the requirements of a wider action plan to combat illegal immigration and crime in general and as such thorough research must be undertaken. I would therefore ask for patience as we undertake this process.
As Cayman's National Weather Service closely monitors the development and path of Tropical Storm Paloma, the Government and Hazard Management Cayman Islands are putting advance precautionary measures into place.
On Grand Cayman due to this week's persistent and sometimes heavy rainfall, the Red Cross shelter is already on alert in case of need. However, it is NOT yet necessary to open this shelter.
Staff from the Department of Children and Family Services also visited flood-prone areas yesterday (Wednesday 05 November) to assess conditions but determined that there was no direct threat to families at that time. The situation will be re-evaluated today.
A decision regarding the shuttering of public buildings will be taken later this morning.
The Sister Islands are also alerted to prevailing conditions and advance preparations are underway there. Meanwhile, HMCI advises residents on all three islands to stay tuned to local media for more updates regarding the Paloma weather system.
Personal preparations should be made and should not be left until the last minute. At the very least, Paloma is expected to produce additional rainfall in the Cayman Islands over the next few days, and history has taught us that we cannot afford complacency during hurricane season, for conditions can rapidly deteriorate.
For further information contact: Bina Mani