Friday, September 7, 2012

A day late and a dollar short (the FCO and Cayman)

Again – or still – we are fretting over the possibility that incompetent bureaucrats (in both London and Cayman) and ignorant local politicians will put an early end to Cayman’s boom. The politicians have alienated pretty much all foreign-born residents, and the bureaucrats have alienated pretty much all non-bureaucrats.

The Immigration authorities, who are all bloodline Caymanians, are philosophically opposed to making life comfortable for non-Caymanians of any variety. Expats (whether immigrants or transients) have no true friends in high places, generally speaking.

The prospect of discriminatory taxes and levies on expats is the straw that may well break the camel’s back. Unless the FCO backs out of its longtime alliance with the local anti-expat lobby (which includes all elected MLAs), Cayman’s prosperity will go the way of Nassau’s in the 1970s. The events of the past few months have been ominous.

Memo to the FCO clerks in London... Sucking-up to the Lobby will only bring grief. Please stop doing it. Small-town “granny-wits” are enough to run a community of simple fisher-folk (as ours used to be), but not an international tax haven. Cayman’s is a sophisticated service-economy that needs at least some of its local rulers to have some first-hand experience of the outside world.

I’ve just read the US Congress’s report on the HSBC Bank’s money-laundering allegations. Our local Monetary Authority – government’s regulator – deserves a triple-Z-minus for its utter failure to discover the Bank’s reported compliance failures. Will the FCO remove the personnel responsible for the failures? Of course not. The inevitable result will be more of the same, as far as one can imagine. Sigh.

Our current Constitution is a grab-bag of childish fancies and prejudices. Britain made a serious strategic error in nodding it through in 2009. Suddenly, we had a Premier and a Protocol Office: motorcycle escorts, personal bodyguards, and luxury vehicles became de rigueur for our local nabobs. New slush funds brought new ways to waste ever more millions of dollars.

What a mess it all is now. No audited financial statements exist to show what our total public indebtedness is; government deficits are envisaged from now until Kingdom Come. What on earth was London thinking? Nothing intelligent, apparently.

It took until this year, 2012, for London to notice the mess. Only then did the FCO clerks twig the full effect of their collective Attention Deficit Disorder. Only now are they suddenly aware of the need for independent audits of government accounts, and for prudent monitoring of public expenditures. Even now, their latest proposals call for only the barest minimum of fiscal responsibility from the same people who got us into the mess.

The FCO’s intervention is a day late and a dollar short, as the saying goes. Unless and until long-term immigrants are allowed to participate fully in local governance, nothing will improve. We aren’t holding our breath; with each week of inaction that passes, more of us lose confidence in the FCO's ability to cope.

In 1997 the UK’s National Audit Office warned the FCO that inattention to the Overseas Territories had created a significant contingent liability. Since then, that contingent liability has increased massively. Nobody knows what it amounts to now. Britain’s own government finances are in such chaos that the Territories’ debts may be a drop in the bucket of Britain’s public debt. Nevertheless, one can measure the effect in terms of straws and camels’ backs.

The FCO is not literally “a day late and a dollar short”. It is at least fifteen years late and several billion dollars short. If we could be sure that its ADD were cured, we would feel a whole lot more comfortable.