Monday, December 27, 2010

Leaders And Followers (Cayman politics)

One of the most irritating things about our local politics is that people are always begging for leadership. Why do they do that? Small towns like ours (14,000 voters) don’t need political leaders, except for occasional specific purposes. Even then it’s unlikely we’d choose from among our professional politicians, if we could avoid it. Maybe we need a Cabinet spokesman, but we don’t need a political leader.

A leader is a boss, not a figurehead. The most obvious government leaders in Cayman are probably the Chief Immigration Officer and the Commissioner of Police. Nobody tells them what to do. They decide where they want their minions to go and for what purposes, and (figuratively) they lead them there. I’m not sure whether our Governor is required to be a leader or not. The FCO decides general policy for the governance of Cayman. Our Governors do have some discretionary power, though they rarely use it. Perhaps their function is merely to be FCO spokesmen.

Are we all sheep, that we need leaders to tell us what to think and do and hope for? Can’t we think and do and hope for ourselves? Apparently not.

This topic is very relevant at the present time. Our MLAs- elected by a third of the total adult population- are hopelessly out of their depth in the present economic recession. They truly haven’t a clue how to cope with it. McKeeva (elected by eight MLA cronies as their spokesman and occasional leader) is fizzing around like a fart in a bottle. Kurt (elected by four MLA cronies as their nominal leader) is doing whatever it is that Kurt does. They’re not leading anybody (besides the cronies), and that’s all right because they don’t have to. We don’t need leaders.

What we need are policy-makers with enough financial nous and prudence to cut out government extravagance, especially off-Island expenditure. We need policy-makers with the courage to defy the anti-immigrant lobby and reach out to newcomers for advice on immigration matters. The proposed changes to the Immigration Law will do absolutely nothing to ease the tensions between native-born Caymanians and our ethnic minorities. We need politicians with a sense of responsibility towards the whole community.

We need politicians who genuinely believe in the virtues of free private enterprise and who scorn the vices of big government. Government’s proper job is to monitor the private sector, not to compete with it or to try to micro-manage its payrolls. That’s socialism, bordering on communism. Stop doing it.

We need politicians who are self-confident enough to rise above personal vanities, and strong enough to ignore the siren-call of corruption. Cash-corruption and crony-corruption are killing us, down here below the Ivory Tower. Senior public servants (i.e. bureaucrats and MLAs) should never be paid more than taxpayers can afford to pay them. The accrued public-service pensions and medical benefits are well set to bankrupt these islands. There are American towns our size that are going broke each week, because of pension-fund deficits. The writing is on the wall for us too.

Instead of political leaders, we need representatives- a few good men and women with enough smarts to know we’re in trouble and enough sense and courage to pull the plug on government extravagance. Only the sheep among us should disagree with that.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

More Immigrants, Please! (Cayman needs them)

McKeeva and his advisors are absolutely right in asserting that Cayman needs more immigrants. Without a higher population, our economy will be hard put to recover to its former level.

We also need more long-term stakeholders. Keeping immigrants in a state of uncertainty does no good for the economy. There is nothing wrong with rollovers in principle; many immigrants roll themselves over every few years anyway. But expelling those who don’t want to leave (or not right then) is stupid, regardless of what level of society they belong to. It is a slap in the face not only for the individuals but also for Cayman’s hopes of a stable society. The stench of resentment hangs over all the expat communities, and that’s a serious obstacle to progress.

One hears talk of a population ideal of 100,000. Well, that’s just a guess. One never hears what nationalities or occupational skills or ages or family sizes might make up that total. Maybe some secret crony-committee somewhere in the bowels of the Legislative Assembly Building is working on the matter; but, if so, the topic is too hot for any discussions to be made public. Also, too hot to allow any immigrants to be in on the secret discussions, apparently. (Nothing wrong with secret discussions per se, Miss Mary; I’m just saying…)

For a couple of years, long ago, I sat on the Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee. There were some good and smart people there- a mixture of expats and native Caymanians- but we never submitted a formal report to the Chamber’s Council. Why? Because we were not allowed to speculate on population numbers in any category or in total. The politicians simply considered that a taboo subject.

These twenty years or so later, the taboo is only just being gradually weakened. In between times, Cayman doubled its population under the surly frowns of the Immigration authorities, who delved into a grab-bag of nations for new transient workers. The powerful anti-immigrant lobby has always argued bitterly against increasing the proportion of immigrants in the population. The Lobby has just about every MLA on its side, plus the entire Immigration bureaucracy.

Because of the taboo, nobody ever explained to the Lobby’s members the economic importance of a higher population. It may be too late now. They are too steeped in ignorance and xenophobia to surrender an ounce of their prejudices. Unless McKeeva can drive a wedge between the tribalists and the more worldly Caymanians, and unite the latter with all the expat communities, he has no chance of getting the extra immigrants he says Cayman needs.

Yet gaining the confidence of the expat communities is something he won’t do. He doesn’t quite have the courage, letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, in Lady Macbeth’s famous words. He might gain a few brownie points by bringing full transparency to all immigration-related procedures, though. He might even get some help from the present Chief Immigration Officer, of all people. She was a member of the Vision-2008 Open and Accountable Government Committee twelve years ago, that urged openness in all such matters. (My “Everybody’s Business” column in this weekend’s Cayman Net News includes some wonderful extracts from the Committee’s Minutes.)

McKeeva might also make a point of involving immigrants in all proposals to change the Immigration Law. The present plan to attract rich retirees as immigrants, for instance, is too lame for words. There are thousands of us out here with better ideas than that.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bearing Arms (Cayman's guns and criminals)

The right to bear arms is an American concept, dating from the colonial rebellion against Britain. In the earliest days, armed individuals played a crucial role. The British Army despised them for their informalities in the same way that today’s occupiers of Afghanistan despise the local resistance fighters. No uniforms? It’s just not cricket.

It has never been the British way to allow civilians in peacetime to have access to the weapons of war - or to carry any weapons at all, even for self-defence. Instead, there exists a sort of “social contract” between rulers and subjects. A national army will protect the citizenry from foreign invasion, and official Police forces will protect individual citizens from domestic criminals.

Britain’s rulers believe that individual citizens can’t be trusted to act responsibly. America’s various levels of government in general disagree, and the nation’s 1787 Constitution (as ratified and amended) famously recognises the possession of weapons as a basic civil right. American townsfolk may not be allowed to shoot up the heavens to celebrate weddings, but they are allowed to keep weapons in their homes or on their persons, subject to local licensing laws.

There is no general right to possess or carry firearms in the British colony of Cayman Islands. However, there are several categories of persons who can be exempted from the general prohibition. It’s worth taking a moment to look at who these privileged persons are, and who does the exempting.

The best known category is members of the Gun Club. It’s probably unfair to call it a secretive organisation, but it does keep an extremely low public profile; it doesn’t advertise its rules or its officers or membership, or solicit new members. In effect, it is pretty much a self-selected civilian militia. I would guess that its members have to produce clean Police Certificates once a year, but maybe not. Maybe the Police have to approve all members, but maybe not. It's a secret.

We know that the owners and managers of selected businesses are allowed to carry guns to and from work, and to store them at home- unloaded, with ammunition kept separate from the guns. Who grants the privilege is not public knowledge; nor are the names of the grantees; nor are the rules and qualifications. Too many secrets! The Police Commissioner has the authority to permit some Police Officers (including Special Constables) to carry pistols, rifles and sub-machine guns on duty and sometimes off duty. The rules, names, qualifications and circumstances are all closely guarded secrets.

Finally, some private security guards are exempted from the general prohibition. Again, their identities are not disclosed - or the rules governing the exemptions, or who grants them. As to the last, I presume the Governor or one of his local FCO minders does the honours.

One can only guess how many individuals in our community are authorised either to carry guns or to keep them locked away (huh!) until used for the purposes envisioned in the licences. Something between five hundred and a thousand, is my guess. That might be roughly one in every fifty or so residents. Quite a nice little militia, when you think about it.

Current fears of violent crime by gun-wielding thugs are prompting calls for the number of legal owners to be increased in every category. Before that happens, though, we ought to insist on some transparency.

Just out of interest: who issued all the licences in Kingston, over the years? Prominent members of the community, wasn’t it? Isn’t that how the political gangs came about? Those among us who want more people to own guns - let’s get some transparency first.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Last Crusade (religious bigotry)

I receive way, way too many mass-circulation e-mails critical of Muslims and their religion. Real hate mail. Apparently they all want to make Sharia Law compulsory for all non-Muslims; they’re all terrorists, and therefore don’t deserve any right to fair trials; they don’t call God by his right name; they dress funny.

Well, I dunno. One of my personal heroes is a Muslim– a brave man who inspired many people to honour freedom and to oppose the slaughter of innocents. That was Muhammad Ali, who famously refused to join the killing fields of Vietnam on the grounds that "No Viet Cong ever called me 'nigger'".

There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and it’s hard to generalise about 1.5 billion people. Hey, it’s hard to generalise about a few thousand Caymanians. There are about 1.5 billion Christians, too, and Buddhists, and Indians, and Chinese, and women drivers who... well, never mind. We shouldn’t generalise about any of them, although we do.

"People are people" is a wonderful expression that I first encountered in Cayman; unfortunately, many of us don’t believe it. Some of us– including several world leaders– don’t really think of Muslims as human people. Would it be wrong to take out seventy million of them by nuking Iran? Naah, let’s do it.

We’ve been here before. The history of the world relates one holocaust after another. Slaughter follows slaughter in an endless, bloody frenzy. We Westerners like to think we’re better than that, but we’re not. As long as there are profits to be made from wars, Western companies will invest in them, often on both sides. When Saddam wanted to gas Kurdish civilians in 1988, Western companies sold him the gas. The shareholders must have been pleased with their dividends that year.

For those of us who believe in religious tolerance, it’s tiresome to have to read about the hammering of poor, wretched Muslims all the time. The emails never mention that Western armies have already slaughtered over a million of them in Iraq, and forced another three or four million into refugee camps. I do wish the emails wouldn’t keep telling me what a violent religion Muslims have.

Apparently, their god is an incredibly violent god, whose name “Allah” translates as "Death to America". Actually, Allah is simply a singular form of Elohim, an ancient Hebrew name for the gods. The name Allah is used by Christian Arabs as well as Muslim. Jesus called his god Allah. Top that for legitimacy!

The people who send the emails fall into two categories: bigots and sheep. Mostly, they’re sheep, who hate Muslims because their political leaders tell them to. And the reason why Western political leaders do that is because they regard Muslims in general as sub-human, fit only to be ruled by Westerners and dispossessed of their lands and natural resources. Unprovoked invasions and occupations were bad when German, Japanese and Russian armies did it, but good when American and British armies do it. Go figure.

If the official conspiracy theory is correct, nineteen Muslim terrorists took down the Twin Towers in 2001 with planes, and Building #7 with debris. Somehow, nineteen morphed into 1.5 billion. Somehow, those few Saudi fanatics were regarded as representatives of the entire world of Islam from Indonesia to the westernmost shores of Africa. Somehow, a single act of terrorism came to justify the most monstrous mass tortures by the very nations that once sponsored human rights and fair trials.

I’m not sure about this, but I don’t think many of the West’s professional torturers in Guantanamo and Bagram are Muslims. I’ll have to ask the next person who sends me a hate-email.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Everybody's Cheating (Cayman's protectionism)

Sooner or later, our politicians will have to take the brakes off private-sector productivity. Government’s labour-control policies make our local cost-of-living much higher than it needs to be. The same policies make the unemployment of native Caymanians worse than it need be, and create the glass ceilings encountered by those who are employed. When will the policies be changed – or, won’t they ever be?

McKeeva has criticised the various labour-control Boards, but the real problem is that they are too unaware of basic economics to know what to do and not to do. The Boards’ members change from time to time, but not one of them has the combination of courage and knowledge necessary to blaze the path that’s best for Cayman and Caymanians. That is a sad judgment on them.

As a tax haven, Cayman ought to be a capitalists’ dream. But capitalism as a business system relates to productivity and return on investment; and our political system works against those things. Government runs its state operations on classic Civil Service principles, whereby specified services are made available to the public with scant regard for productivity, and none at all for return on investment. Our rulers apply public-sector (socialist) principles to private-sector practices through the Immigration Law.

That Law requires private employers to hire Caymanians with minimal regard for their education, aptitude or attitude; and to promote them with minimal regard for their productivity or contribution towards profits. That requirement amounts to a social contract between government and each private employer. Government allows the employer to trade in Cayman, in exchange for hiring and promoting people whom he otherwise would not employ. It’s a contract that both parties cheat on.

The government (comprising FCO clerks, local Civil Servants, and Caymanian MLAs and their crony-committees) discriminates among businesses, denies Work Permits to foreign employees at will, and disallows the firing of Caymanian employees for any reason. That’s cheating. Local employers (company owners and managers) retaliate by not hiring Caymanians if they can possibly avoid it, promoting as few of them as they can, and by withholding genuine executive authority from those whom they are forced to promote. That’s cheating, too. Both of the contractual parties cheat.

Jobs for life and promotions not based on competence are features of Civil Service employment; but private employers do not willingly hire people they can’t fire. (The old Caymanian slavery tradition comes into play in respect of low-skilled workers from overseas. They can be fired out of hand, with no regard for the Labour Law or any other law.)

The contract and the cheating have existed for forty years, more or less. The government side keeps tightening the Immigration Law and the guidelines for the Department and the crony-committees. The employers keep reinforcing the glass ceilings. If government’s negotiators had the long-term interests of Cayman at heart they could significantly lower both the cost of doing business and the cost of living, pretty much at a stroke. Unfortunately, they are constrained by their stubbornness, their economic ignorance and their loyalty to their political sponsors. Consequently, they are driving Cayman down a dangerous road.

Lost sight of in all the frenetic scheduling of First Class trips to likely sources of overseas investment, our local labour-control laws and regulations actively discourage further investment in existing local sources. Of all the dumb things that our politicians and senior bureaucrats do and allow to be done, that is surely the dumbest.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

1984 Revisited (towards an American Police State)

In 1984 the United States invited the Cayman Islands Government to sign a formal contract (“the Narco Agreement”) requiring Cayman’s cooperation in the tracking-down of the proceeds of narcotics trafficking. The two sides argued back and forth for a while, until Cayman suddenly capitulated. It was rumoured that the US had threatened to body-search every passenger arriving in Miami on flights from Cayman. That would have destroyed our Offshore industry overnight.

Well, here we go again. This time, America has turned one of its Federal police agencies loose on all air passengers everywhere. Body searches are suddenly the order of the day, all over the country. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has brought the flavour of 1930s Germany to the airports of “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

Passengers must submit to either whole-body radiation scans or intimate physical probes, feel-ups and gropings. The scanning machines concentrate radiation on the surface of the skin and just below it, so are far more intensive than ordinary X-rays; they can trigger skin-cancers in vulnerable individuals. Particularly susceptible are foetuses in wombs, children, and persons with “impaired immunity” such as those who have already had cancer. Cancer Society- your comments and advice, please.

The intimate probes, feel-ups and gropings are collectively called “gate rapes” by bloggers. There are fears that STDs and other diseases may be spread by the contact of much-used rubber gloves with several victims’ genitals. How intimate was the inspection of the latest “client”, exactly, and how easily could the next in line become infected? And the next, and the next, until the gloves are changed? (The gloves are to protect the gropers, not their victims.)

Babies and children are not exempted. Children of any age can be taken away from their parents by TSA goons for private molestation. What a shock for little kids to learn that strangers in uniform have free access to their bodies – in the security lines at airports, for the moment: later on, who knows?

As if this wasn’t bad enough news for Cayman’s tourism industry, the TSA intends to extend the program to cruise passengers. In due course, Owen Roberts Airport will be required to install the scanners, and perhaps our cruise passengers’ landing-places will too. Local security personnel may be recruited to make the gate-rape inspections. Oh dear. Sandra’s Sex-Offenders Register may need extra pages.

It’s not just our overseas visitors who will be affected. We who live in Cayman can calculate the effect on our personal lives. Long weekends in Tampa may become less appealing; flying to Miami to give birth may become dangerous. Grandchildren’s visits to Cayman may become more expensive. One of my two young granddaughters carries the breast-cancer gene. The radiation scanner might kill her; sexual assault would traumatise her.

What to do? The US is no longer a safe transit point. Next time the girls visit us, they will have to fly into Cayman from Toronto or Kingston or London – assuming those places do not copy America’s path to mass radiation. Or Cuba, or Honduras- OK, that’s five places.

Three times during our youthful travels, my wife and I managed to bluff our way out of a country whose exit formalities we found onerous. Two of the countries were within the Soviet Empire; the third was an Arab dictatorship. On none of the occasions were our body-cavities at the slightest risk of unwanted exploration. The Amerikan [sic] Empire is breaking new ground.

“1984” is here at last.

Later. In March 2013 I posted another blog on the same general theme, this time relating to in-transit foolishness at Heathrow on the way through to Norway.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Wasting Space (Cayman's Civil Servants)

Over the course of a thirty-year career, each Civil Servant costs the taxpayers the best part of two million dollars. Half of that would be salary, the rest medical expenses for the whole family plus pensions, expense accounts, office rent and other overheads. It all adds up. Whenever MLAs are looking for ways to reduce Public Expenditure, they should close down useless positions before they start cutting wages across the board.

Of all government employees, the most useless must surely be the public-relations personnel. Every Department seems to have at least one, and GIS (Government Information Service) has a staff of twenty. If they all quit tomorrow, we would be not a jot less informed about our governance. The only genuine damage their absence would cause is to the vanity of our politicians and senior Civil Servants. Does that vanity justify adding an extra $100 million or so to our Public Debt?

The job of GIS and the Departmental Press Officers is simply to make their superiors look good. In pointing that out, I mean no personal disrespect to all these purveyors of glad tidings. They keep themselves busy, and their professional skills are adequate. Unfortunately, their work is utterly unproductive. Their press reports are ephemeral make-work, of zero value to the community. Frankly, we’d rather have the money that’s wasted on them all.

We can judge their efficacy by the reputations of the government units they serve.

Education Dept. The average government-school pupil possesses skills inferior to the average private-school pupil. Logic and common sense would therefore suggest that the private schools send inspectors to grade the government schools’ standards, instead of vice versa. The average standards of reading, writing and arithmetic in our government schools are appalling; the average standards of general knowledge of the outside world are worse. The Department’s publicity people are a waste of space.

Immigration authorities. Their reputation is quite high with native Caymanians but abysmally low with almost everybody else. They are viscerally anti-expat, and much of their famed incompetence is actually malice. What is the point of a public-relations team that aggravates the divisions within our society?

Dept of Tourism. Its public image is of an endless swarm of boondoggles, on which it wastes tens of millions of dollars each year. The tourists it brings in could be brought by a team of three on a couple of hundred thousand dollars – one per cent of the present budget. Its press releases do little more than boast of its extravagances.

Cayman Airways. Its entire budget is wasted. All its public-relations unit can do is keep this dead parrot nailed to its perch. Which it does very well, it must be said. Squeezing $1000 a year out of every man, woman and child in the native-Caymanian community just to keep the parrot looking alive, is a triumph of propaganda. Those skills would be worth a fortune in the private sector.

Protocol Office. Somebody was lucky enough to catch the FCO’s clerk-in-charge on his way from one padded cell to the next. The Cayman public is split fifty-fifty on whether to laugh or cry.

Financial Secretary’s Portfolio. I’m not sure that it still has a Press officer; if it does, he learned his communications skills from the Trappists. It is left to our Auditor General to tell us that there are no timely internal audits or checks of any significance, no up-to-date Financial Statements, no reliable Budget figures, and no responsible management of Public Revenue, Expenditure or Debt. Total chaos.

As for the Police, well, hmm... What good has a public relations officer ever done for the Police’s image?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Welcome Wagon (Cayman's anti-immigrants)

McKeeva has promised to tweak Cayman’s anti-immigrant rules and procedures. I wonder how many foreign investors are comforted by that. Better some minor tweaking than none at all, of course, and we should be grateful for small mercies. But we need to bear in mind that all changes will be limited in duration to the term of the present Government.

The proposed changes aren’t supported by the Opposition Team. It is in thrall to the anti-immigrant lobby infinitely more than McKeeva’s Team is. The PPM will accuse the UDP of pandering to the expats, and will vow to revoke the changes after the next election. The proposed changes won’t be supported by the Immigration authorities either. Anti-expat sentiments are pretty much an essential pre-requisite for job applicants at the Immigration Department. The Department’s demographics reflect that- if it has more than six immigrants in its ranks, I’d be surprised.

The Department is autonomous, for all practical purposes. It determines its own policies. It exercises the power to choose which bits of the Immigration law to observe and which not. Its officers (allegedly) are allowed to give sub-rosa help and information to their friends and families. The immigration-related Boards and Committees are packed with cronies. They accept their appointments in order to wield power over their and their business rivals’ Work Permit grants- allegedly. Most members lobby fiercely for the jobs.

The proposed changes won’t alter the general practices on the ground, by either the Department or the Boards. All MLAs know very well that the changes have but one purpose- to persuade a few virgin investors to buy Cayman property before they have time to recognise the trap for what it is. Immediately after the 2013 election, the new Cabinet will reverse the changes- probably back-dated.

Our politicians are experienced in the art of retrospective legislation. After all, the starting points for the Rollovers were back-dated six years. A fair number of foreigners who had bought land and houses suddenly found themselves under notice to quit. Does anybody believe the same thing won’t happen again? The grants of Status in 2003 were within a whisker of being revoked, years after the grant- so the promised grants of “Permanent” Residence should not be relied on overmuch.

It doesn’t pay to under-estimate the power of the anti-expat lobby. Foreign investors who buy land and houses this time around- on the promise of the tweaked rules and procedures- will wake up one morning to find the regulations and policies back to what they are now. Our next general election is thirty months away. Is it even worth making the effort to relax our Immigration procedures if they are doomed to expire in thirty months?

Maybe, maybe not. Some new investors and new residents will be persuaded. However, as soon as the reforms are reversed they will quite likely go away again, angry at falling for the confidence-trick. Look McKeeva and advisors, by all means tweak the rules, but don’t do it without carrying the Opposition with you, and the Immigration bureaucracy too. Get your priorities straight!

First, create a climate of welcome for foreign investors– and only when you have succeeded in that should you roll out Cayman’s welcome mat. It doesn’t make any sense to do it the other way round. On the plus side, you have an impressive armoury. You have a National Investment Council (NIC) and a National Advisory Council (NAC), and there are rumours of a new Finance unit charged with disparaging Ireland as a tax-haven alternative to Cayman.

Well, with a NIC, NAC, and a Paddy-whack, we should be in good shape. If all goes according to Hoyle, somebody might throw us a bone.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cargo Cult (Cayman's education failure)

An alarming number of born-and-bred Caymanians seem to believe that our Offshore tax-haven could survive the replacement of all (or almost all) its expat administrators by born-and-bred Caymanians.

“How difficult can this work be? Most expats have to be trained by Caymanians anyway, on half the salary. Those who criticise Cayman, send them home and let our people do the work themselves.”

Well, no. Some Caymanians are sophisticated and experienced enough to work in senior positions in the tax-haven industry, yes, but not nearly enough. The rest of them are wishful thinkers. 

Nearly thirty years ago my wife and I worked and lived in an archipelago in the South Pacific. One of the islands was Tanna, famous for being the home of a strange local cult dedicated to the worship of a Messiah they called “John Frum”. The cult was invented by some groups of native Melanesians as a way of explaining the appliances, cars and heavy machines, and the planes that carried them, introduced to the islands by white invaders – especially American support troops during the Pacific War of 1941-45. 

With no concept of how those products came into existence, the cult ascribed their presence to magic – pure and simple. Their former belief-system was abandoned as false (since it had failed to account for the machinery), and the villagers bent their minds to understanding how the magic worked. If they could discover the trick, they could conjure up the products without the intervention of any foreigners. When the Americans went away (promising to return, as Americans do) they left behind the fruits of their magic, which they had called “cargo”. The villagers tried to maintain the equipment, the way they had been taught. How hard could it be, after all?

They failed, and have ever since waited patiently for their man to return and disclose the magic formula. In 1972 the village we visited had a mock airstrip and a mock plane, and they met every so often to check whether John had snuck up on them overnight. As they learnt from the Christian missionaries, a few decades is not a long time to wait for the return of a Messiah. 

Many in Cayman are on the cusp of following the same path, in respect of our tax-haven. Those who have worked beyond the narrow confines of Cayman know there is no magic involved. But those who believe that tax-haven expertise can be picked up from a few evening classes at UCCI might as well be in a cargo cult. It beggars belief that our politicians pay so much attention to the anti-expat lobby at this pivotal moment in our economic history. Yes, the lobby commands a great many voters; but it is pursuing an obviously lost cause. Pursuing lost causes is a distraction we can’t afford. 

Our Offshore industry is reeling under an onslaught from the governments of high-tax nations. Our rulers must somehow find the courage to defy the cultists of the anti-immigrant lobby. Even the government of that South Pacific archipelago (called Vanuatu, today) resists the demands of its local cargo cult; why can’t our government resist the demands of ours?

Sometimes it seems as though our MLAs would rather rule a broken and busted Cayman than not-rule a prosperous one. They turn a blind eye to the slow drift toward the exits, of Offshore professionals and other middle-class immigrants. It’s never easy retreating under fire, so there will be no fuss or fanfare from the departing expats. After all, they have cars and houses to sell, and they want good prices for them. We who remain will have to live with the damage wreaked by the cult.

Good luck to us.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Guarding The Guards (exploitation in Cayman)

This is not a good time to be a security guard in Cayman.

Sure, mostly, their lives are pretty standard fare for unskilled indentured migrants all over the world. They sleep up to five in a cheap room, work two or three shifts a day for low wages, and set aside enough money to keep their families alive and well back home. Like poor migrant workers in general, security guards deserve our admiration and respect.

Just think of the qualifications they need for their jobs. They must be brave enough to test their luck in foreign places, and resilient in the face of bullying by foreign bureaucrats and exploitation by foreign employers. They must be courteous in the face of rudeness.

In Cayman, a mean and greedy government taxes their meagre remittances home, and turns a blind eye to the theft of portions of their wages by some employers. Cayman Islands Laws give no protection to Work Permit expats, especially the lowest paid of them, especially against their employers. Our security guards find themselves up against a hostile Immigration bureaucracy that cuts them no slack.

Indeed, Cayman’s entire system of governance relegates our poorest migrants to an underclass, living in what many Jamaicans call “near slavery”. Even the Police don’t seem keen to investigate crimes against them. Nobody ever seems to be prosecuted when poor migrants are slashed by machetes in the middle of the night, or mown down by forklifts.

Stealing from domestic servants and construction labourers has always been winked at by “official Cayman”. No householder has ever been charged with short-paying his or her domestic servant, however often that happens. No contractor has ever been charged with arranging for the quiet deportation of migrant labourers who protested against illegitimate deductions from their wages. Such quiet departures are a hallowed tradition in Cayman. It is part and parcel of the wretched indentures system.

The 670 employers who stole their workers’ pension contributions have never been prosecuted, and never will be. According to news reports, the guilty employers have been let off the hook because they have spent the money already. It would be a terrible hardship to make them pay up now, poor dears. (What a wonderful precedent that is, for embezzlers and muggers. If you’ve already spent it, you don’t have to pay it back.)

It would be interesting to know exactly who the 670 employers are bribing (with the money they haven’t yet spent...) to avoid trial. I mean, surely the inaction can’t be blamed entirely on bureaucratic sloth or incompetence. Hmmm. On the other hand, maybe it can...

Unfortunately, the victims are mostly poor migrants, and they are fair game for all kinds of thieves and bullies. Perhaps they are being shipped off the Island in order to prevent them testifying, or to allow the offences to be statute-barred because time has run out. It’s bound to be one of those two. They didn’t sign up to be cheated or exploited – or to be exempted from the protection of the law.

How can Cayman claim to observe “the rule of law”, when poor migrant workers are notoriously excluded? It is high time that we as a community reviewed our social contract with our lowest-paid migrants.

Private security guards are in the headlines just now. They certainly didn’t sign up for four dollars an hour to be shot at by robbers. What are we going to do to protect them from that?