Cayman’s first woman governor is settling into her role – the first Caribbean posting in her career – as head of a British Overseas Territory. The Journal spoke with Her Excellency last month about budgets, crime and water sports.
Helen Kilpatrick is, by anyone’s standard, quite accomplished.
However, the one thing she hasn’t quite been able to master, she admits, is stand-up paddle boarding.
“It’s harder than it looks,” Governor Kilpatrick says. “I’ve been learning from my daughter Olivia. She’s a natural.”
The new governor, who succeeds Governor Duncan Taylor, seems generally enchanted after her first few weeks in the islands. She has taken up swimming in the ocean off Seven Mile Beach to “take advantage of the magnificent setting of the house” [the governor’s home is on the waterfront] and has spent the first several weeks since her arrival in early September speaking with as many Caymanians as possible.
The governor, 55, who is divorced, is accompanied by her 20-year-old daughter, Olivia Connolly, who will be starting classes at the Cayman Islands Law School. The governor’s son, Jason Connolly, 22, lives in the U.K.
In her first weeks on the job, the governor has attended meetings or get-togethers in all the districts, including on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.
Prior to arriving, the career U.K. accountant and political insider did thorough research on her new destination. “But I don’t think anything can substitute for being here,” she says. “I’ve been able to take the temperature of the islands, and so far my reception has been universally positive. I’ve always heard about the great Caymanian hospitality, but now I’m experiencing it firsthand.”
Kilpatrick is also acutely aware of her standing as the first woman among the dozen governors in Cayman Islands history, and only the second woman to be appointed governor of a U.K. overseas territories post in the Caribbean.
She made reference to it in her first speech in the Cayman Islands, accepting her nomination as governor: “This is something that I am particularly proud of. It is, perhaps, natural therefore, that I hope to do what I can to champion the rights of women and [against] discrimination – in whatever form it takes.”
Kilpatrick doesn’t seem to shy away from difficult issues, a number of which may come to her office in the next few years.
Most notably recently is the matter of wiretapping by the police, authorized by the governor, for the purposes of detecting serious crime and safeguarding the economic interests of the Cayman Islands.
It was revealed that police were seeking changes to the law, which currently allows for secret surveillance by police, that would force telecommunications companies to participate in covert wiretapping.
Keen to quell public concern about plans for a system of secret wiretaps, Kilpatrick says she was comfortable with the legislation that created the system.
“If you’re not a serious criminal, then your information will not be looked at in any way,” Kilpatrick said. “Unless you’re involved in very serious crime, you don’t have anything to be concerned about.”
Regulations attached to the Information and Communications Technology Authority Law – approved in August 2011 by Cayman Islands Cabinet members – allow “any person employed by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service to intercept a message in relation to a matter or person” for the purposes of gathering intelligence.
The interception of the message – which can include any form of communication, such as telephones, post, email and text messages – must be authorized by a warrant issued directly from the governor. The warrant would have to be addressed to the RCIPS commissioner, who can then authorize a police service employee to execute it.
There is no judicial review of the warrants prior to their being issued. However, any information uncovered via the use of such telephone tapping or email snooping methods is not be available for use in court.
Ms Kilpatrick pointed out that an oversight committee – yet to be formed – will be kept independent of the governor. It is to include a local justice of the peace (who will serve as chairman), a retired judge, magistrate or lawyer, the chief officer of the government Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs [now the Ministry of Home Affairs], an information technology specialist who is employed by government, and a technical expert in the area of communications interception who is from a law enforcement agency outside the Cayman Islands.
Police will retain the recorded information, which will be audited by the oversight committee, the governor said.
“There will be system controls put in place, logs that [the committee] will be able to inspect,” she said. “I can’t go into the technical details, but it won’t be a question of just asking people. There’ll be evidence.”
Much of the debate surrounding the communications interceptions have to do with crime, the responses to which Kilpatrick is still ultimately responsible for under the Cayman Islands Constitution Order, 2009.
Kilpatrick says she has no intention to micromanage police or the government budget. However, she says the public perception about a larger-than-normal number of police officers working in Cayman may be a bit skewed.
“When you get to this numbers game, saying Cayman has ’X’ number of policemen and ‘X’ number of people, you’ve got to be careful to compare like with like,” she said. “[The police] do immigration functions, they do licensing functions … they do everything.
“One of the things that can make a difference to efficiency and effectiveness is to make sure the trained and qualified police officers are only doing work that trained and qualified police officers need to do and that other work is done by less experienced people.”
Kilpatrick said she and RCIPS Commissioner David Baines have discussed – in the medium-term – reassignment of a number of police officers from certain specialist units.
“[We need to] make sure that all the officers who can be are freed up to actually work on policing activity rather than activities that could be undertaken by less qualified people,” Ms Kilpatrick says.
For the first time in three years, RCIPS crime statistics show an increase in both serious and volume crimes over the first nine months of this year.
The statistics, compiled from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, reveal a 15 percent increase in overall crime compared with the same period in 2012, and a 33.6 percent increase in what the RCIPS considers “serious crime.”
The rise in crime is driven largely by an increase in burglaries since the start of the year. According to police records, 540 break-ins were reported through Sept. 30, compared to a total of 370 reported in the three islands during the same period last year, an increase of 46 percent.
Another major area of concern is robberies, which declined sharply during 2012. Through Sept. 30 this year, 38 robberies were reported, compared to 30 reported in the same period last year, close to a 27 percent increase.
The recent spike in armed robberies and shootings since late August prompted Premier Alden McLaughlin to publicly declare that Cayman “is not what it was.”
Governor Kilpatrick cautions that the police, while playing a critical role in law enforcement, are not “the whole issue to deal with crime.”
“There are issues around people’s upbringing in society, their attitudes, particularly I’m afraid, young males,” she said. “There are issues about what happens to people after they’ve been arrested and how long it takes to bring them to justice.”
The governor’s office does not specifically control any aspect of the Cayman Islands government budget, but it is within the governor’s remit to promote good governance and accountable public financing.
To that end, Kilpatrick says she likes the creation of a four-year budget plan, to be formulated at the start of each parliamentary cycle.
The Cayman Islands holds general elections every four years. What Kilpatrick envisions is having one general guidance document for the entirety of each government.
“It serves two purposes; one is you spend less time creating a whole budget from scratch every year, and two is … it gives a good financial horizon for departments and public bodies, particularly if you’re having to economize …,” she said.
The current government submitted a four-year plan with less detail about spending to the United Kingdom, which approved it prior to the start of the 2013/14 budget process. However, that was not the same as drawing up a four-year spending plan. Premier Alden McLaughlin has already complained about the time it takes each year to prepare for the next fiscal cycle.
“It essentially takes up about nine months of the year to get the budget presented,” Mr. McLaughlin says. “If we can, in some way, reduce the length of time and the resources that are devoted to budget preparation year on year, those resources can be … better utilized in other aspects of managing government.”
One solution that could be considered is found in the Channel Islands, he said.
“It is possible to develop a budget process that isn’t restricted to a single year, as is the case in Jersey. We are certainly looking at the prospect of changing our system so we don’t have to go through all of the tremendous amount of work and effort that it takes.”
Governor Kilpatrick said last week that the United Kingdom was likely to support such a move.
“They do have to review [the budget] every year,” she says. “Four years is actually quite a long time and things move on and things change. However, having your budget reviewed every year doesn’t give you the opportunity to plan.”
No matter what system Cayman eventually ends up using, the governor said, it needs to be simpler and more accountable. The current budget, she said, is more than a bit confusing and not very accountable with regard to what government spending has achieved.
“I can make heads or tails out of it, because I’m a professionally qualified accountant, but the real test is whether the public can make heads or tails out of it,” she says. “It’s fair to say that there’s generally agreement that the current system isn’t as clear, as simple and as accessible as it could be. “It’s a fine balance between so detailed that you get bogged down in it, and then not so general that everybody says you can’t see what’s going on.”