The Customs and Border Control Amendment Bill was the first of three major Bills proposed on Monday at a special sitting of Parliament by the Finance Minister and Deputy Premier Chris Saunders, an intensely debated Bill that drew heated discussion from both the Government and the Opposition.
Minister Saunders introduced the second reading of the Bill saying that, while they listened to all advice given them, the Government had questioned all information before they wrote the Bills.
Having come to the conclusion that 80% of the entire population ought to be vaccinated before moving forward with opening, Minister Saunders said that their approach was to ensure that all the hard work undertaken to convince people to take the vaccine wasn’t in vain.
“They are now telling us that we should fly the gates open and let everyone in, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated,” he said.
If this was the case, the Minister worried that, if overseas workers were not vaccinated, the numbers of people vaccinated would be watered down and thereby the country would not have the immunity it needed to weather Covid.
“That is highly irresponsible and not something that this Government or the vast majority of the Caymanian people can support,” he said. “As the population increases, the local vaccination rate would get lower and this is not something we can support.”
While the Bill requires certain sectors of people to be vaccinated before being able to reside in Cayman, the Government had tweaked the Bill from its original format. The Minister said that it was decided to remove the requirement to get vaccinated for dependents of Caymanians seeking permission to reside in Cayman and children of Caymanians seeking to enter who would be entitled to become Caymanian once they have lived in the Islands for one year.
Opposition sees problems ahead
Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart said that the Government would face a series of “thorny issues” that might see legal challenges should the Bill pass, one being that people are asked to prove they don’t have a variety of communicable diseases (including Covid-19) before they can live and work in Cayman.
“Being vaccinated is no indication that one does not suffer from this communicable disease. Only a suitable test for the presence of the virus before arriving and again after an appropriate quarantine period provides sufficient satisfaction that the person is not infected with the virus and therefore not able to transmit it,” he stated.
Mandating vaccines was no panacea, he said.
Some of the categories of people allowed in only when vaccinated was also an issue, Mr. McTaggart said, including students, and children and dependents of Caymanians.
The potential impact on an unvaccinated child or dependent of a Caymanian was a thorny issue that the Government should have considered when taking into consideration the right to family life under the Constitution. There maybe other Constitutional issues that might come into play, he added.
“This Bill clearly ventures far beyond work permit holders,” he said, stating that the Bills had received scant if any public consultation.
Former Premier and Member of the Opposition Alden McLaughlin felt that the Bill would unfairly target one particular segment of the Cayman population who had been more reticent to take the vaccine, the Jamaican community. While stressing that he and other members of the Opposition were pro-vaccine, he felt it was the individual’s right to decide on whether to take the vaccine.
“It is not for the Government to do, however we'll meaning they are and however smart they think they are,” he said.
Government not scared of legal challenges
The debate then continued on the Immigration Transition Amendment Bill. Speaking to the Opposition’s worry that such Bills would be challenged in the Courts, Attorney General Sam Bulging said that there was no shortage of legal opinion on the proposed laws but that those which had been aired were “selective”.
There was nothing in the proposed legislation that actually mandated people to take the vaccine, rather, if people wanted to enjoy certain rights such as living and working in the Cayman Islands, they would be subject to the requirement to take the vaccine.
“Although the words “mandatory vaccination” have been banded about in a kind of loose sense, there’s really no mandatory requirement in this legislation,” the Ag stated. “All it says is that if you want to enjoy certain privileges, under the immigration law - work permit or renewal of a work permit - one of the conditions that you have to meet is to demonstrate that you’ve been vaccinated.”
Opposition member Joey Hew said it was a “fairytale” for Caymanians to think that they would be protected from Covid-19 if the Government mandated that all ex-pats be vaccinated.
“The more I listen tonight, the more I feel that this Bill will not provide the outcome the Government is seeking,” Mr. Hew said. “The debate, the emphasis today took us far away from how do we get as many Caymanians vaccinated and how do we protect our Caymanian people and most importantly when we open our borders how do we protect and secure our health services authority.”
Mr. Hew said to mandate only work permit holders be vaccinated gave the Caymanian community “a false sense of security”.
The debate continues Tuesday.