By Staff Writer
A lobby group seemingly intended as a rallying point initially for some in the expatriate community against mandatory vaccination as it pertains to them has become the focus of attention over claims that it is divisive.
In just a matter of days, the so-called EPACI (Expatriate Association of the Cayman Islands), had launched a website and alerted the media and wider community of its presence, was then taken offline - only to reappear again.
The matter of the group and its agenda was addressed on the Caymanian Times programme, The Panel, as concerns mount in the community over its alarming accusations and conclusions defiantly published on its website.
WHAT REALLY IS THE INTENT OF SO-CALLED EPACI?
In an agenda that clearly goes beyond the issue of specified vaccine mandates, the so-called EPACI claims to have made a series of Freedom of Information Requests to the Cayman Islands Government (CIG) on a range of topics concerning immigration policies; work permit applications, revenues from fees, citizenship and residency status, to UK funding of the Governor’s Office.
It’s not exactly clear who is officially behind so-called EPACI, but the CIG policy on FOI requests states: “FOI requests must be in writing and do not need to include a reason. While you must include a name and contact details, unless you are seeking your own personal information an alias can be used.”
In a lengthy commentary that narrowly focuses on comparisons between the UK and the Cayman Islands, suggests that it’s agitating on behalf of what it regards as an imbalance in the treatment of expatriates in Cayman compared to Caymanians in the UK.
According to the Cayman Islands government, the expatriate community here is made up of over 130 different nationalities.
“We compare the rights and entitlements of Caymanians in the UK, over the rights and entitlements of UK citizens here. The disparity is seismic,” the so-called EPACI argues while invoking the UK’s Boris Johnson Conservative government’s mantra of “levelling up” to make its demands.
It also takes swipe at the Cayman Islands Government(CIG) accusing it of a range of shortcomings including xenophobia and poor financial management. And it argues that the Governor should be elected by British expats and not “imposed” by the British government.
VACCINE MANDATES IN PLACE
The amended laws governing border control; residency, citizenship and work permit status for mandatory vaccination requirements were passed by the Cayman Islands Parliament last week after intense debate.
While inside the Parliament the PACT coalition carried the vote with its majority against the Progressives-led opposition after vigorous debate, outside the chambers protesters demonstrated their disapproval of the course of action the government had prescribed.
Into that febrile environment, the EPACI group emerged and for shirt time threatened what some feared would result in deep and destabilising divisions between the two main groups that make up the fabric of Cayman society and economy; nationals and non-nationals.
But it encountered immediate and strong resistance from across the community including nationals and non-nationals who resented what was seen as a dangerous attempt to exploit the debate over the vaccine policy to sow divisions.
‘THE PANEL’ QUESTIONS SO-CALLED EPACI’S MOTIVES
Analysing the events on Caymanian Times’ The Panel discussion programme, public affairs commentator Roy Bodden backed the government’s move saying the vaccine mandate policies it’s putting in place reflect a global trend.
“I don't think that anyone has anything to fear from the government. It’s the responsibility of the government first of all, to protect its citizens and guest workers have to understand this. Guest workers throughout the world have to comply with certain regulations and protocols laid down by the countries in which they work. And there are countries and jurisdictions and territories with much more draconian regulations that we have now in this time of COVID,” he stated.
That view is shared by his co-panellist Mario E Ebanks who wondered if there was an underlying agenda.
“I think there's a lot of noise about nothing and I'm not sure what the agenda is because most of the expats that I have spoken to or heard other people talk about; they're anxious to get vaccinated…if they're going to remain here, or if they go home, or they travel.”
Mr Ebanks also pointed to the vaccine travel requirements now being insisted by the United States and other countries.
“The other thing to bear in mind, which is very important, is that United States has recently mandated vaccination for travellers. So if you've got to leave Cayman, to go to United States even in transit I think you need to have the vaccination.”
A similar strict vaccine policy recently went into effect in Antigua which also impacts in-transit non-national passengers travelling to and from the British territory Montserrat.
Montserrat is practically dependent on Antigua and a travel and cargo transit point to the outside world.
Mr Ebanks also said the government is in compliance with the Consitution on the issue of the rights of the individual, a point which has been raised by the EPIACI group and others who have claimed that their human rights were being disregarded.
“The government shows in this debate that they were being reasonable and they will comply with (the Bill of Rights) which talks about administrative correctness in terms of being rational proportionate, reasonable, and administratively correct.”
According to Mr Ebanks, “Every country has its sovereign right to have what they call gatekeeper legislation, you can manage who comes in and under what conditions.”
Picking up on the point of a likely underlying agenda raised by Mario E Ebanks, panellist Roy Bodden felt that “there was an agenda within an agenda” particularly notable with the anti-vaccine demonstration.
“I think that there were some people in the demonstration using it to get an agenda that they may have, which is not even tangentially related to the COVID, but it's some other political platform that they think that they may be able to raise some popularity.”
He rejected suggestions of any anti-expat intent in either the vaccine policy or the local Caymanian society, and chided those who might be seeking to sow such divisions.
Dr Bodden, a noted author, academic and historian, felt the matter has highlighted serious issues in the society that Cayman has so far failed to address and which makes the situation easy to be exploited by persons ‘with their own agenda’.
“I have always held that the Caymanian society is a duality; us and them - and indeed I said in my book, (The Cayman Islands in Transition), that our greatest socialisation with outside people is when we meet up at the water fountain in the office. Because at five o'clock. at the end of the day, we go our different ways and we don't come together again till eight o'clock in the morning.”
Dr Bodden lamented: “That cannot make for a good society. If the economy would sink, we would find out that it would probably look like we’ve descended into virtual cannibalism. There is nothing else holding our interest together, nothing of substance glueing us together, except the economy, and that does not make for a good, stable society.”
The next edition airs on Thursday October 14th live-streamed from 8pm.