Confident, spirited, articulate arguments bolstered by well-researched topics and a solid grasp of parliamentary procedures characterised the 14th Cayman Islands Youth Parliament debate held this past Saturday 29th May.
The 21 youth parliamentarians, drawn from schools throughout the jurisdiction, were split into government and opposition benches and assigned to individual constituencies.
This year’s session was postponed from the planned Commonwealth day observation in March due to the calling of the snap elections which were held in April.
The young parliamentarians vigorously and confidently debated two motions; one proposing a government website and app to promote its services to the community, and the other calling for a moratorium on the importation of petrol and diesel vehicles.
In welcoming the Youth Parliament representatives, Hon. Speaker McKeeva Bush said the topics gave the current government and sitting MPs an insight into what the youth expected of them.
“Their engagement gives us a perception of what our young people want and expect from the leaders today. This is a golden opportunity for us to hear firsthand what our young people are thinking about some of the issues and conditions our islands face today,” Mr Bush stated.
“Knowing the views of our youth on topics that affect our communities will keep the government and the principals and the private sector alike better informed.”
The Youth Parliament members were also addressed by the Hon. Leader of the Opposition, Roy McTaggart on the unique circumstances of this year’s debate, including the renamed Parliament and the impact of the pandemic.
“COVID-19 is a reminder, as if we really needed one, that our government and our parliament including Youth Parliament cannot ignore the impact on us of decisions that are made internationally,” he stated.
Mr McTaggart also referred to measures put in place by his former Progressives-led government to restrict the impact of the pandemic in Cayman, and linked that to this year’s event.
“This is the theme of this Youth Parliament, ‘Delivering A Common Future: Connecting, Innovating and Transforming’ is so relevant to us all,” he outlined.
“As we look to reopen our borders and connect once again with the global community, and we will have to do so at some point, we will need to innovate and transform the way we live our lives so that we can remain safe...Connecting, innovating, and transforming is nothing new to us here in the Cayman Islands,” Mr McTaggart stated.
He said the motions for this year’s debate were timely.
What was timely for Hon. Premier Wayne Panton when he addressed the Youth Parliamentarians, was the actual timing of their debate coming as it did just after the snap election - which had caused it to be postponed.
“I believe the decision to postpone the debate has given the 21 Youth Parliamentarians a unique look at the democratic process. You were afforded the opportunity to meet with members of the last government administration and watched as a new administration was formed,” he noted.
In what amounted to a lesson on the democratic process, Premier Panton enlightened the Youth Parliament members on the democratic process that led to the formation of his new coalition government.
“You also saw that a coalition of independents have agreed to come together to focus on the 95% of the solutions for the country that we all agree on. I was setting aside a few, perhaps 5% that we really have varying views on,” he said.
Speaking on the tenets of PACT (People-driven, Accountable, Competent and Transparent) administration, the Premier stated:
“While we are all independently minded, our common purpose is to uplift and make life better for all Caymanians and those who call these shores home."
He also told them "while we adhere to our founding principles, I want to focus today on the people-driven aspect particularly on the inclusion of our youth.”
Issues affecting the youth of the Cayman Islands was a recurring theme during this year's election campaign and Mr Panton spoke of the importance of engaging young people.
“If our youth become disenfranchised or disengaged from the political process, then a significant part of our population is voiceless and has no influence on the decisions that are made that affect their lives,” he stated.
Saying that the students involved in the youth parliament had “an upper hand when it comes to knowing about the political process”, Premier Panton was however worried about some of their peers.
“Many of your colleagues may not know why or even care how democracy works. So, it is incumbent on each of us to ensure that all young people are adequately represented...and be given the knowledge and ability to participate at all levels of the democratic process.”
He cited modern-day activism by young people elsewhere in the world, singling out the United States, Chile, Nigeria, Lebanon and Tunisia as examples.
“What all governments must realise is that the youth of today will be the leaders of tomorrow, and looking around this room, I see hope for the future of our Cayman Islands, and that is good,” Premier Panton declared.
YOUTH IN CONTROL
And in a stirring statement, the Speaker of the Youth Parliament, Allison Flores-Hernandez, underlined the significance of the event to the young people and the wider Cayman society.
“After a year of trying as 2020, the Cayman Islands have displayed a strong sense of CaymanKind, which is rich with unity and connection. That has allowed us to prevail through the troubling and worrisome times with the guidance of our efficient and strong government and the cooperation of our community. We have all made sacrifices and lifestyle changes that have allowed us to reach where we are today.”
Regarding the motions, she stated: “The topics that will be discussed today by my fellow youth parliamentarians, truly demonstrates the strong desire we hold to better one's community, and to provide an easier lifestyle, filled with opportunities for us Caymanians.”
The motions were tabled in the form of two Private Member's Motions followed by vigorous and engaging debates.
The first motion tabled by the opposition sought the launching of a website and app to promote government amenities and resources to the community.
It was defeated by the ‘government’ side casting a majority of nine votes to the opposition's seven.
The government side then presented its own motion for a moratorium on fossil fuel powered vehicles.
That succeeded with the government side casting its majority nine votes in favour, to the opposition's seven.
Representing the government bench were: Ryan Brick, as Premier, Matthew Haughton as Deputy Premier, Shira Dawkins as Minister for Education, Johnnie Lund as Health Minister, Sherika McPherson Finance Minister, Jamar McCoy as Commerce Minister, Keira Bodden as Financial Services Minister, Leanna Allen as Deputy Governor and Maya Roye as Attorney General. Government backbenchers were Ariana Anglin, Jelani Hanson and Reon Porter who was also the Deputy Speaker.
Participating as the Opposition were: Leah Robinson as Leader, Jerry Allen-Ezequiel as Deputy Leader, Andrew McLaughlin Jr., Shankar Paulraj, Sheala Reid, Ciara Chong and Sarah Sato Bodden.
Oriela Dzaghgouni served as Clerk of the Parliament and Shamara Lewis as Serjeant-at-Arms.