By Charles Duncan
When the next meeting of the Legislative Assembly opens Wednesday, Feb. 22, Cayman’s elected leaders will face a full plate of new proposals.
Members of the Legislative Assembly will consider a complete overhaul of how financial regulators share company information with overseas authorities. They will tackle a slate of bills to bring the watchdog offices under one roof and create a new Office of Ombudsman to oversee complaints against government.
Members will also consider a new law to regulate Cayman’s fuel market, along with more than a dozen other new bills and amendments.
Opposition leader McKeeva Bush told The Cayman Reporter: “Once again the government is rushing several issues through which the country should really have more time to deal with.”
He would not say specifically which bills he is referring to but added: “The election is just around the corner. The government is weak and grabbing at any and everything to try to look as good as possible.”
The premier’s office did not reply to a request for a response.
Legislators will take up the “super-ombudsman” proposal in this session, eliminating the independent offices of the Information Commissioner and Complaints Commissioner. The proposal last year led three MLAs to resign in protest from the committee that oversees the Complaints Commissioner.
The new office, if approved, would oversee complaints against government that would have previously gone to the Complaints Commissioner and over open records disputes. The new office will also hear complaints against the police service.
The bill creates a new ombudsman position. The ombudsman would be appointed by the governor, in consultation with the premier and opposition leader, and serve a single seven-year term.
Government says they plan to combine the offices to save money.
In the fall, as opposition MLAs revolted against combining the independent offices, members said publicly that they were concerned that the new ombudsman’s post would not be as independent in the oversight role.
A slate of legal amendments will clear the way for a new way the Cayman Islands shares company ownership information with overseas law enforcement and tax authorities.
The proposal is the basis for an agreement between the Cayman government and the United Kingdom to improve the system of sharing ownership information and fight Cayman’s reputation as a tax haven.
The system is based around a new technical solution to create what government calls a “centralised system” to access ownership data. Instead of creating a central register, the system will give government access to ownership data kept and maintained by financial services companies.
An officer in government will be able to access the information to respond to requests from overseas authorities that are part of treaties or other agreements with Cayman. The data will not be made public.
Legal Practitioners Bill
Government will once again try to get the Legal Practitioners Bill through the Legislative Assembly. The Progressives failed to get the bill passed the last time they brought it up in October.
In the fall, both the Caymanian Bar Association and the Cayman Islands Law Society both expressed support for the bill. But independent and opposition members of the Legislative Assembly said it could be bad for Caymanian attorneys.
The dispute over the bill centers on law firms that want to expand beyond Cayman and fears that local firms could send jobs overseas instead of hiring Caymanian attorneys.
Opposition leader Mr. Bush tried in October to set up a new committee to review the bill before the next meeting, but government rejected that motion.