Two years after Cayman’s general elections, local politicians are now debating the merits and demerits of party politics vs. independent representative. The Hon Premier Alden McLaughlin of the Peoples Progressive Movement (PPM) is leading the debate in favour of a government based on party politics, while members of the opposition are arguing in favour of forming a government based on independent representatives.
You will recall that during the political campaign leading up to the 2017 elections, the public was bombarded with political speeches and adverts that claimed the independent elected politicians would provide the best form of government for the Cayman Islands, and would essentially solve all of the country’s political problems. This strategy appears to have worked as a majority of independent representatives were elected to the Legislative Assembly. It is said that politics is a numbers game. If this is true, the independents had the numbers to form the government. Despite the explanations given, it is still a mystery to most Caymanians why this did not happen.
No one should forget the fiasco that followed the 2017 elections, when the elected independents met several times to form a government and failed to do so. The result was the formation of a coalition government by the PPM and the Cayman Democratic Party (CDP), and a couple of independents thrown in to boost the numbers. The independents had to settle for second prize, forming the opposition. This is not what the independent candidates and their financial backers promised the Caymanian people in the 2017 campaign.
Independent candidates claim that they have greater freedom to speak their minds as they are not restricted by the official position of a political party. However, the fact that independents have the freedom to speak their minds exposes some of the disadvantages of relying on such a loose alliance to form a government.
In the Cayman context, when a group of say 10 independents get together to attempt to form a government, they must deal with 10 different agendas/manifestos, and in some cases, the agenda of their financial backers. Independents lack the organization and structure which comes with a party. This is largely responsible for the chaos that ensued when independents tried to decide on the structure and priorities for forming a government. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage in this scenario is that each independent’s ego comes into play and no one is willing to compromise their position. It seems that politicians’ egos are larger than most other people.
Another disadvantage is that voters will have no certainty before the elections as to who will be the premier of the independent group after election. This results in infighting for the leadership. In simple words, every independent want to be chief no one want to be just Indian.
In the history of our Legislative Assembly (LA), there was a brief period when the independent representative served a useful role in forming the government. However, it is only nostalgic thinking to believe that the independent representative can play the same role today. In my humble opinion, the biggest lesson that should be learnt from the 2017 elections is that independent elected politicians are not the best way to form a government for the Cayman Islands in today’s world.
Historically, we have seen that independents that are not a member of the government or affiliated with the government are punished by the government, which tends to neglect the local needs of the independent’s constituency/district.
In our Legislative Assembly, the opposition plays an important role in providing oversight and a system of checks and balances on the function and performance of government. However, we have seen that the recent resignation of the Leader of the Opposition has left the opposition in apparent disarray in appointing a new leader. Would this have happened if the opposition was formed by a party? This lack of organization and absence of a smooth transfer of leadership is what has given rise to the current debate on the suitability of independents forming government or performing the role of opposition. How would the independents cope with collective responsibility that is required to form the Cabinet of the government?
The independents clearly demonstrated that they were not capable of forming a government, and by their own action, indicted themselves from gaining the people’s trust to do so. I am hopeful that the independents can see the bigger picture and can put their egos aside and work to create the best political system for the Caymanian people. The members of the opposition are decent and capable people who must find a better way to serve the Caymanian people.
Although political parties have their benefits in promoting good for the citizens of the nation, I by no means want to imply or suggest that a government formed on a party system will result in a perfect government. A prime example of an imperfect and failed government formed on the party system is the PPM. I once heard a West Bay lady on a radio talk show say that PPM stood for “Poor People Mistake”. I absolutely agree with her.
It is my opinion that the PPM lacks the vision, planning capability and moral fortitude to effectively address the issues that are affecting Caymanians who are suffering in poverty, unemployment, hunger, and who live pay check to pay check. Premier Hon Alden McLaughlin has had six years to fix the problem of unemployment for Caymanians, but has failed to do so.
His most recent attempt has been the creation of the Workforce Opportunities & Residency Cayman (WORC) department. However, recent published statistics show that work permits for foreign workers have increased from 25,000 to over 27,000. For example, there are over 800 lawyers practicing in Cayman, and only a very small percentage of those are Caymanians. I personally know a young Caymanian lawyer who qualified overseas, but after being called to the bar in Cayman, was refused a job by an expat law firm. This happened after the WORC was officially launched.
Therefore, one must ask the question, how effective is the WORC in helping Caymanians get jobs. It is common knowledge that many young Caymanians return home after studying overseas and cannot get jobs. The PPM government is busy passing laws like the International Tax Cooperation (Economic Substance) Law 2018, which is so onerous it will result in driving small Caymanian law firms out of business, while promoting large expat law firms.
The PPM government is busy working for the privileged 5% of the nation, including expat lawyers and big businesses, but has forgotten the thousands of Caymanians who are suffering.
As a side issue, I still don’t understand why the Caymanian Bar Association merged with the Law Society to become the Cayman Islands Legal Practitioners Association. How will this merger with expat lawyers help Caymanian lawyers?
The most important distinction that must be made regarding the PPM government, is that it is not the party system that has failed the Caymanian people. It is the politicians in the PPM party that have failed the Caymanian people. Their mission seems to be the suppression of opportunities for Caymanians, rather than creating opportunities to lift them out of poverty. The members of the PPM need to stop focusing on getting their names written in the history books and think of the needs of Caymanians. The Premier Hon Alden Mclaughlin claim to fame and the history books is that he will be the first Premier to serve two consecutive terms as premier. However, the historians will have an abundant of footnotes to remind them of how the Premier failed the Caymanian people. Much more can be said on the failure of the PPM government; however, there will be other opportunities.
Charles de Gaulle once said, “I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.” I agree.
We need leaders who are thinking of Cayman’s current and future needs, and who understand that we need to engage in nation building and the need to build political institutions that can fulfill the political development that will inevitably come to these islands. The Cayman Islands need to build political parties to best govern on behalf of the people. Will an independent representative style of government prepare Caymanians for internal self-government or independence?
I don’t think so. We need politicians who have the vision and commitment to do the right thing for the Caymanian people. While independent candidates should have a seat at the table, if that is the wish of the people, their role should be minimized.
In conclusion, let me ask the independent representatives of our Legislative Assembly to name one or more current or former British colony that has implemented a government based solely on the independent representative system, as advocated by independents in Cayman. If the independent representative system of forming a government is such a good idea, why have other democratic governments around the world not chosen to implement such a system?
Finally, Caymanians need to become involved in the creation of political parties and the selection of suitable candidates to represent their interests. We need candidates that are honourable, intelligent, inspiring and passionate about helping Caymanians. Far too many MLAs sit in the LA year after year and make little or no contribution, yet they are paid a salary. Are they there just for the salary?
It is likely that voters will be faced with the dilemma of choosing between two evils in the upcoming 2021 elections – political parties and independent representative. The independent representative system must be the evil rejected.
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.
Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Editor and Staff of Caymanian Times.