Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1503 the three Cayman Islands (Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman) are situated some 260 km north-west of Jamaica in the Caribbean Sea. The islands have an area of about 260 sq km.
‘Cayman’ comes from a Carib word for the marine crocodiles, once found on their shores. The vast majority of the population live on the largest of the three islands, Grand Cayman. English is the principal language.
The present Constitution came into force on 6 November 2009 and provides for a Ministerial system of Government.
The Governor retains responsibility for aspects of the public service, defence, external affairs and internal security including the police.
The Legislative Assembly comprises the Speaker, fifteen elected members and two ex-officio members (the Deputy Governor and the Attorney General). Elections are held every four years, most recently in May 2009.
The Constitution also provides for a Cabinet consisting of the Premier, four other Ministers (rising to six when the number of Members of the Legislative Assembly increases from fifteen to eighteen) and the two ex-officio members of the Legislative Assembly. The Governor presides at meetings of Cabinet. Cabinet has responsibility for the formulation of policy, except in the areas reserved to the Governor.
International offshore finance and tourism are the major economic activities.
In 2010, there were circa 300,000 stay-over visitors and some 1.5 million cruise ship visitors.
At the end of that year there were 371 bank and trust companies, 739 captive insurance companies, 9,003 licensed or registered mutual funds and 91,206 registered companies in the Cayman Islands. The principal sources of government revenue are import duties, company, bank and trust licence fees, work permit fees and stamp duties.
There is no national insurance, no income or payroll tax, no company or corporation tax, no inheritance tax, no capital gains or gift taxes and no VAT.
Although imports outstrip exports by about 100:1, the visible trade gap is more than offset by invisible earnings from the financial services and tourism sectors.
The Cayman Islands have done much over the years to protect their flora and fauna.
The Islands have 25 endemic species of plants and reptiles, and over 200 species of birds. A botanical park and bird sanctuary on Grand Cayman provide safe environments for endangered species of birds and lizards.
The National Trust is engaged in long-term projects to preserve the unique wildlife and flora indigenous to Cayman Brac.