This article focuses on the historical and current role of the Caymanian politician in providing, or not providing, socio-economic and political protection for the Caymanian people. It assumes that Caymanians are the first responsibility of local politicians. It also asserts that politicians are responsible for the unemployment and unacceptable economic and social conditions that many Caymanians find themselves in today. I have presented several socio-economic issues which I believe demonstrate how politicians have failed in the discharge of their responsibilities.
The primary responsibility of any government, including the C.I. Government, is to protect the individual rights and freedoms of its citizens. Governments have many other responsibilities, such as managing the economy, providing equal opportunity, and ensuring the rule of law and justice, just to name a few. Politicians are elected to form and manage the government, which provides protection and services for the people. In this context, protection does not mean protection from attacks from external hostile forces -which is the responsibility of the United Kingdom. However, it means ensuring the legal rights and economic opportunities of its citizens within its borders are protected.
Early Vision – Cayman Protection Law 1971
Caymanian politicians of the 1950s and ’60s understood the economic change that was about to take place-with the development of the tourism industry in the 1960s- and had a clear vision of the need to protect the economic and political rights of Caymanians. Therefore, in 1971 the Caymanian Protection Law was passed. The Memorandum of Objects and Reasons of the Law states …” there has arisen a grave risk that the social character of the Islands as well as the way of life of the population may be adversely affected by the influx of private and business settlers, and other consequential factors.” What great foresight and wisdom displayed by our forefathers to predict some of the changes that would take place in our society! The politicians of the day wanted to send a clear message as to what was the main purpose of the Law; hence the title Caymanian Protection Law was chosen. Based on the stated purpose of the Law, it is also reasonable to infer that our forefathers also intended to provide a framework of protection for future politicians to build on. They saw the beginning of a new economic future for the Cayman Islands and for Caymanians and realized that the development of the islands would require specialized and skilled labour. However, they also realized that future labour needs should not be met at the expense of disenfranchising Caymanian workers.
In other words, the politicians back then wanted Caymanians to own their share of the economic pie and the law provided a framework for that vision to be realized. Prior to the transformation of Cayman’s economy from seafearing endeavours to tourism and financial services, Cayman produced the captains, chief engineers and other skilled mariners, whose income kept the Cayman economy functioning. Therefore, in that kind of economy there was no need to protect jobs for Caymanians.
Regrettably, the Hansard in the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly (LA) will show that the Caymanian Protection Law 1971 was amended by subsequent politicians until it died a slow and painful death. The demise of the Caymanian Protection Law took away the political and economic protection that our forefathers intended for Caymanians.
Realignment of the Caymanian Worker
The erosion of the Caymanian Protection Law opened floodgates to foreign workers of all skill levels who were allowed into the Cayman Islands. No record was found of a government study to assist politicians in understanding the risks of importing foreign workers. There is no record to show that politicians understand the advantages and disadvantages of importing workers to form Cayman’s middle class, as opposed to educating and training Caymanians to take on this role. Doctors, lawyers and other professionals were paid high salaries and eventually given Caymanian Status as a bonus, just for showing up for work. Caymanians who made similar commitment to serving the country were thrown overboard and left to swim or drown.
It is accepted that work plays an important role on the individual level as well as on the larger societal level. On the individual level, a job strengthens family bonds, and gives structure and meaning to life. Most importantly, jobs provide the financial means by which a person can access and purchase necessary goods and services. However, when politicians intervene in the marketplace, as in the case of the Cayman Islands, and create obstacles (work permits) to the natural distribution of jobs, the result is unemployment and social instability. In the Cayman experience, Caymanians are marginalized. They lose self-esteem, must accept government handouts, and many turn to crime and other questionable activities to survive. This kind of environment also invites political manipulation of jobs to maintain political power.
Decades after the transformation of Cayman’s economy, the indications are the politicians still have not learnt about the risk and economic impact that foreign workers have on the economy. For example, do they understand the impact of funds sent home monthly by foreign workers have on the economy? Do they understand the impact that foreign workers have on the island’s physical infrastructure and services? Equally important, do they understand the risk and the impact that the grant of Caymanian Status has on our political system of government? For example, if you have a concentration of Caymanian Status Holders forming the majority of voters in an electoral district, what is the impact on our elections? In addition, we know that large numbers of unskilled foreign workers are forced to live in deplorable housing conditions, thereby adding to Cayman’s poorest class.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the Caymanian Times.
About the author:
Gilbert Connolly is a retired Cayman Islands senior civil servant. He is a graduate of Pace University, New York with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He also holds a post graduate Diploma in Insurance Management from Nottingham University and City University London, and an EMBA from UCCI and the University of Toronto.