Archive for April 12th, 2012

Equity – no exceptions

| 12/04/2012 | 35 Comments

When it comes to the arguments for and against single member constituencies, the premier is right about one thing: the idea put forward by the PPM of having two voting systems in one country is absurd. If it is wrong for the people of George Town, West Bay and Bodden Town to have more say in the outcome of the general elections by having more than one vote, then it is equally wrong for the people of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman to have two votes, even more so if the system changed so that the rest of the electorate has only one.

The opposition, including the PPM Sister Islands representative, must decide whether they believe in one man, one vote (OMOV) or not. To campaign for a more democraticsystem but then water it down with an exception for one district weakens their whole argument – and potentially damages the wider campaign for a more democratic system. It’s either a principle they believe in or it isn’t.

The idea for ‘one country, two systems’ emerged at public meetings during the discussion period for the new constitution during the PPM administration. It was daft then and it’s daft now. There is no more reason for the multi-vote system in the Sister Islands than there is in any other district and the same arguments against it apply.

But by not showing proper leadership and explaining to the voters here why OMOV is better, they have made their position on this issue appear feeble, which may well cast doubts in the minds of the people they need to convince of the benefits of the OMOV system. Why should George Town voters give up some of their power for the good of the country if Brackers are not going to be asked to make the same sacrifice? What if West Bay voters decide they want to be an exception, too?

And all this is bad news for supporters of OMOV in the upcoming referendum. Not only does it give supporters of the status quo real ammunition to undermine every single argument in favour of OMOV but there are 981 voters on the two Sister Islands (at the last count), and if they want them to vote ‘yes’ to single member constituencies in the national ballot this summer, the PPM had better start repairing the damage and explaining why they should.

Both the 2003 and the 2010 Electoral Boundary Commissions have suggested dividing the Sister Islands into two districts if single member constituencies were introduced: Cayman Brac West and Little Cayman would be one district and Cayman Brac East would be the other.

At every meeting I’ve ever attended every Brac resident was against this idea, wanting to keep the voting system in the Sister Islands unchanged, whatever they do in Grand Cayman. And even though the PPM supposedly supports OMOV, so far I haven’t heard any efforts on the part of any politician to persuade the Brac voters of its value across the board, apparently preferring to pacify the people than lead or educate them. 

If the opposition is going to drop the ball, then the independent campaigners for OMOV need to spend time on the Brac and Little Cayman persuading the voters here of its merits.

Brackers will argue that the two MLAs for the Sister Islands need to work together for the good of the two islands and that dividing the district would split their loyalty. However, as it now stands the two incumbents, one from each party, do not work together at all – I’m not even sure if they speak to each other – and have not from the start of the previous administration. Before that, when we had two UDP representatives, the animosity was, if anything, worse. 

The voters here also say that the issues for the people here are largely uniform across the two islands; the economy, tourism, infrastructure – these are issues that affect us all. Well, yes, but there is no need to think that the divide will mean that the MLAs should only concern themselves with what goes on within a strict geographical boundary.

MLAs do not represent land mass; they represent the people who live in a certain area and are charged by those people to work on their behalf in the political arena and to stand up for their interests. The MLA for Cayman Brac East, therefore, should still be concerned with any aspect of the running of the island that affects his or her constituents.

The hotel area, for example, may be in the west but it offers employment for people living in the east; residents of Spot Bay still count on the airport, the fire service and the hospital; people in Cotton Tree Bay rely on the dock at the Creek; everyone needs a good power supply.

MLAs who want to double up services just to have them in their district (a negative to OMOV that the premier pointed out in his speech in the LA) are financially irresponsible and should not have been elected in the first place. But all MLAs worth their salt will work for the good of the island as a whole, and the country as a whole, because it will benefit their constituents, and there is no reason at all why the two Sister Islands representatives in single member constituencies should not work together to achieve this (if we could just find two suitable candidates on speaking terms).

As is the case for Grand Cayman, the issue is about equity – the current system is not fair – and accountability. At the end of every four years, your MLA, whether they are in government or in opposition, should be able to stand up and say, “This is what I did for you …”

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