People power in a democracy

| 04/02/2011

There is a lot of unhappiness in this country about government. Many people are affected by the economic situation. Those who are not yet affected are worried by it. Everyone understands that we were hit by the global crisis, but there is also criticism of the previous government, the Financial Secretary, the civil service and the previous Governor. And many believe that the present government’s reaction has made things worse.

Even those who like the sound of some government projects are troubled by the way they get decided, worried by the lack of information, suspicious that self-interest or patronage is involved, upset by the row that inevitably follows in the LA and on the airwaves, doubtful that the projects will come to anything in the end, worried by the true cost and the effect on the cost of living if they do come to something. The Premier tells people not to criticize him but his words have the opposite effect. He has not earned public confidence.

The Opposition is criticized by those who think it plays a part in government decision-making, and by those who feel it should be doing more to push the government in the right direction.

The previous Governor did real harm and made himself very unpopular by his extraordinary interventions. Some suspected a plot hatched in the UK, and some still do.

The Financial Secretary received criticism for changing his tune on the state of government finances. The Attorney Generalhas attracted criticism on several occasions, not least for failing to give effect to the Constitution. Even the Auditor General (previous) got some, though he was only trying to shine a light on government workings.

The civil service as a whole has come in for a sustained barrage of criticism, as have the police.

We, the people, have become dissatisfied, suspicious, critical of everything and everyone in government.

Why is that? Surely it is not just that it is easier now for people to vent publicly.

One explanation is simply that people have good reason to be dissatisfied, suspicious and critical. Perhaps some critics go over the top, some misunderstand the situation, some blame government for things over which it has little control, and some expect too much of ordinary mortals; but there is certainly a lot to criticize.

Another explanation is that the global crisis has given this country a jolt, as has the increase in violent crime. Even those who have not been directly affected are less confident about the country and the future. And when a country is under stress people do become critical. They are worried, afraid. This is what we do when we are worried and afraid. The economic stress should ease as the world economy gets back on its feet, and the effects feed through to our country – though our financial industry does have some other issues as well.

A third explanation is that people feel frustrated, helpless to do anything about all the bad and worrying things that are going on around them. What else can they do except complain and criticize? Elections are 4 years apart, and offer a limited choice. They do not enable voters to say what they want done or changed.

I am writing this article to suggest that we, the people, are not so helpless. We can and should do more.

Some blame politicians for the state of our government. Some blame party politics, or financial backers lurking in the shadows. Some blame the Constitution. The hard truth is that, if anyone is to blame, it is us – we, the people.

I am not just talking about the fact that we elected the politicos who now run our government. I mean that, if we do not like the way our government works, or if we do not think much of our MLAs, it is for us to do something about it. Nobody else will.

Complaining gets us nowhere. It achieves nothing. It may do harm by making others even more cynical and disillusioned about government. We need to act. To act constructively. Few of us can make a difference by ourselves. We have to get together with others who feel the same way.

Together people can achieve a lot more than they can individually.

This is not an original idea. It is as old as democracy. I expect it was said by some ancient Greek thousands of years ago, but my quote is from Edmund Burke, a member of Parliament writing in the 1700s. At that time the best that could be said about English democracy was that other countries did not have democracy at all. Government was a shambles, partly because the king still had a lot of power, partly because many of the politicos were self-seeking and corrupt. Burke wrote “when bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle”.

In every democracy it is up to the people to do what is needed to get the kind of government they want. If people do not like what is going on and want change, they must come together, and take effective action to make it happen. If people do nothing, they are likely to get the government they deserve. Democracy does not work well unless people get involved. It does not work well if people treat it as a spectator sport.

Certainly, democracy is not a guarantee of good efficient government. Many of the worst governments in the world are democratically elected. No constitution, however well written, guarantees good efficient government; there is alwaysscope for power to be exercised well or badly. The UK does not guarantee us good efficient government; and we would not wish them to do so. There would be loud complaints if the UK intervened in any but the most dire circumstances.

The UK does give us personal freedom and increasing democracy, and would give us full democracy (i.e. independence) if we wanted it. The question is what we, the people, are going to do with our democracy. Will we stand on the sidelines and complain, or will we get involved and take responsibility?

When people get together to protect their own industry, they are usually described as a pressure group. We have several of those here, and they are quite effective within their limited spheres of operation. When people get together to protect the interests of their country or their community, they are usually described as a political movement. We do not have so many of them.

The strategy adopted by a political movement to achieve its goals depends on the goals and the circumstances. If it fields candidates for election, it may be described as a political party.

The expression “political party” is also used when politicos get together and share an election platform because they think that will improve their chances of getting power. I do not mean to suggest that politicos who combine in this way are bad guys. I am only pointing out that some parties are made by and for politicos. Other parties, those that embody political movements, have goals that are not simply to get power for certain politicos. The UDP is of the first kind; the PPM is of the second kind.

There have been political parties of the first kind in Cayman for a long time. Since I arrived here in 1974 the first six general elections were won by a “team” (Unity, Dignity, or National). The next election (2000) was not won by a team; and that led to instability, confrontation and public unrest as the MLAs continued to jostle for power, and the country ended up with a leader and a government that few would have chosen. The next general election was won by the PPM team; and the next by the UDP team.

This grouping of candidates before an election into teams (a.k.a. parties) is important for voters, as well as politicos. It enables voters to use their votes to choose their government.

Our form of democracy is based on the UK’s, not surprisingly. In the USA democracy is different. The most obvious difference is that US voters choose not only the district representatives who make up the legislature, but also the chief executive, the President. In the UK and Cayman voters elect district representatives only. It is left to those representatives to choose the chief executive (the Prime Minister or Premier), and he chooses the Cabinet.

On paper the UK system seems less democratic than the US system. Why don’t UK voters choose the Prime Minister? Surely the essence of democracy is that people choose their own government?

The answer is that In practice they do – because there is a party system. UK voters know before a general election whether a candidate belongs to a party, and who will become thePrime Minister if that party wins a majority of the seats in Parliament. So, if a voter wants to use his vote to get the government he thinks would be best (or least awful), he can do so.

Of course a UK voter can, if he wishes, use his vote to get the district representative he thinks would be best, and not worry about who will be the next government. Or, if there is a particular policy issue on which the voter disagrees strongly with the main parties, he may decide to use his vote to support an independent candidate or a member of a smaller party which feels the same way. It is up to the voter to decide which is more important to him – the best available representative, or the best available government, or the policy issue on which he feels strongly. Given the great power of the governmentto affect the life of everyone in the country, it is not surprising that UK voters seem to show more interest in choosing the government.

Without some sort of party system, UK voters would be disenfranchised. The voter would not know before the election who might turn out to be the front-runners to become Prime Minister; the voter would not know which of these front-runners would be supported by the candidates running for election in the voter’s district. So the voter would have no means of saying who he wanted as Prime Minister. The voter might well discover after the election that his representative had supported a Prime Minister of whom the voter strongly disapproved.

It is just as important in Cayman as in the UK that voters have the opportunity to use their votes to choose their government. That opportunity exists only if candidates make clear before the election who they will join with to make a team, and who they will try to make Premier. Then voters can choose between the rival teams. Otherwise voters are disenfranchised. A candidate who tells voters “leave it to me to choose the Premier” is really saying that his own political ambitions are more important than the views of his community. He is asking voters to give up a democratic right so that he should have freedom of manoeuvre.

Cayman developed a party system years ago. Elections were contested by teams. But some of us have forgotten that; and some have found it in their interests to spread the myth that the party system is new to Cayman, that party politics bring confrontation, and that before the UDP and PPM came on the scene our government was made up of independents who acted according to their individual consciences.

This is a myth. No part of it is true. Members of the old teams stuck together during their term in office, as do members of the new teams, knowing that a split would likely lead to criticism and loss of power. In both cases we may hope that there is or was a limit, that a politico would resign from Cabinet rather than support something of which he strongly disapproved.

The lesson of Cayman’s history is clear: if voters elect a slate of independents rather than a team, as happened in 2000, the MLAs continue to jostle for power, and that leads to instability and the risk of the country getting a leader and a government that few want. It also leads to increased acrimony and confrontation among the MLAs and their supporters. And it leads to a weak government (however strong its rhetoric) incapable of sustained effort because of its internal divisions on matters of policy and priorities.

It is fine to have an independent to help the Opposition keep the winning team on its toes, or to champion some particular cause. But to expect a slate of independents to put together an efficient stable government is unrealistic. As for the idea that independent MLAs who have parlayed themselves into power as the government will then act according to their consciences without influence from their colleagues in government, that is a fairy tale. The government will last only as long as its members can reach compromises with each other.

I am notsuggesting that all parties, or teams, are the same, or that all are good for the country. On the contrary, it is obvious that some parties do great harm.

The most harmful kind of party is the patronage party, in which the goal is to get power, and the understanding is that, if their politicos get power, it will be used to reward supporters. This kind of party is found in most of the truly disastrous democracies. Once a patronage party makes headway in a country, more patronage parties are likely to emerge, as people and politicos get the idea that patronage is the path to power, and the only way for ordinary people to be sure they will be able to put food on the table. This is a slippery slope with blood and ruin at the bottom.

Voters should be cautious about any party or team which isnot also a political movement with real goals that go beyond getting power for certain politicos. One reason for caution is that every politico who gets power, however ethical he may be, is confronted now and then by a choice whether to do what is best for the country or what is best for his prospects of re-election. If his colleagues and his support group think power is what matters most, the odds are that the politico will succumb to temptation and make the wrong choice – wrong for the country. Difficult decisions get dodged, left to a future government. If a decision cannot be dodged, the politico flip-flops as he tries to assess the popularity of possible decisions.

Furthermore, going back to the discussion at the beginning of this article, political movements are the way in which ordinary people in a democracy can bring about change. They are a sign of a healthy democracy.

Movements differ, but in a small country such as this a movement can be organised (1) to enable people to get more information, or more reliable information, about what is going on, (2) to provide the opportunity to discuss the situation, and what needs to be done, (3) to turn the views of the movement into action by choosing suitable candidates, agreeing a manifesto, and helping to get them elected, (4) to press the government to deliver what the movement seeks. Of course a movement may wish to add to this list. For example, it may have a programme of community work, harnessing the talents and energies of its members.

As far as I know, the PPM is at present the country’s only active political movement. It came together in the dark days of 2002 and 2003. Its goals were formulated and put into the PPM constitution. We saw all too clearly the kind of government that was bad for the country, and likely to get worse unless people mobilized to stop the rot.

We wanted an end to fear, intimidation, patronage and corruption. We wanted efficient government. We wanted government to be open and accountable, not secretive. We wanted a free press, with access to government information. We wanted a government that would engage in real consultation before making big decisions, a government that would think before acting. We wanted respect for the law. We wanted no petty dictators. We wanted a government that would earn people’s trust. We wanted to encourage people to come together to hear what was going on, and to exchange views freely. We wanted to put limits on what the government of the day could do, especially as regards changing the constitution.

We also had strong views on particular policies, especially that education, training, law and order, and infrastructure had all been neglected. This neglect had damaged the country in several ways, and the damage would get worse if the neglect continued. But we saw the threat to our system of government as a central concern because, if we lost that battle, the country could kiss goodbye to real improvement in any of these other particular fields.

You could sum it up by saying that we wanted a strong, modern democracy with constitutional safeguards. In some countries that view is already so strong and prevalent that there is no need for a political movement to protect it or make it happen. But in Cayman in 2002 and 2003 that view was under attack, and it looked as if the attackers were getting the upper hand.

The country did mobilize. The movement grew huge. A PPM government was elected. It practised what it had preached. And it made good progress in bringing about lasting change, especially with the Freedom of Information Law and the new Constitution. But then came the global crisis and economic problems. With the return of a UDP team to power we see again much of what we fought against, and the UDP government wants to roll back or ignore some of our important changes. The struggle for a strong modern democracy is not over.

In 2011 the challenges facing the country are not all the same asthose by which the movement was confronted and energized in 2002 and 2003. Views and priorities are naturally changing as a result. The old PPM principles remain firm but there are new things with which we must grapple collectively.

We are entering a new phase. We have a general election in two years. Not very long for a movement to do what must be done. This is the time, the opportunity, for people to get together, to make up their minds about what the country needs, and to ensure that we get it.

With a new leader (from February 12) to help re-focus and re-energise our efforts, the PPM must be like a sponge, absorbing the views, needs, and ideas of our communities, and drawing in those who will help our effort in one way or another – to stand as candidates, or shoulder some of the work, or help develop solutions, or contribute to discussions. The PPM will develop and change, but I am sure it will not give up its founding principles, because they are still vital and are still under attack.

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  1. fisher king says:

    regardless as to who gets to rule the roost in a few years, the Cayman Islands are on the road to perdition –  do not pass go, do not collect $200.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Duckworth is a major part of the problem with the PPM and is the reason why I have distanced myself from the party. I hope he is stepping down on the 12th February.

    Alden will never be able to galvanize the people the way a party leader must be able to so I’m afraid that the country must find an alternative to both parties prunto or else the UDP will be re-elected by default !!!

    The PPM have lost too many good people and the ceremonial change of leader that will take place on the 12th February is nothing more than that…..ceremonial.

    God help us !

    • Anonymous says:

      Amen !

      We need The Chuckster back !!!

      PPMer to the core (but discouraged)

  3. Anonymous says:

     You have to work with the people, not against the people.  Reforming public policy does not mean to start a political opposition party meant to create division within the system of citizens.  The PPM makes me feel like this is a coup not leadership.  

  4. Anonymous says:

    There is no people power in Cayman’s Democracy. As a UDP supporter, I would agree with alot things you have said; however, you make it appear like the PPM is some righteous “movement” for its cause – that, I don’t agree. It is one of the most critical movements against this present government, and the malicious statements and things I have heard thrown at the Premier, sincerely… makes you all look like the Tea baggers attacking President Obama.

    • Caymanian 2 D Bone & Proud of It says:

      The only thing that you have said that is correct is that there is NO PEOPLE POWER here!

  5. Mathew says:

    It is nice you say that we shouldn’t cast “blame” on our MLA’s, but rather on ourselves. You further stated that “the UK does give us personal freedom and increasing democracy, and would give us full democracy (i.e. independence) if we wantedit…” I personally think we don’t want FULL DEMOCRACY because we are SCARED of becoming Independent. But then again, are the options for our democratic determination so narrowed between the state of British Overseas Territory and Independence? Steve Mcfield and other local politicians make it look like we only have two options. There is little said about seeking the determination of FREE ASSOCIATION that would give the Cayman Islands a FULL DEMOCRACY without UK’s interference. Why is Independence the only way out of this partial democracy we are in??? I just don’t understand Caymanians! They are so scared of Independence, yet want full democracy, and their leaders have been so quiet on the other options of determination. Last I heard one politician said that they brought it up to the UK to grant us that right to pursue a Free Associated State, but they refused. Hence, really, the UK is to blame by using her powers to keep us narrowed down to one single option, the scarry independence option. But FREE ASSOCIATION is nothing new! In 1967 a number of British colonies in the Caribbean chose to change their statuses to states in FREE ASSOCIATION with the United Kingdom. The name for these colonies was called the West Indies Associated States. They included Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, and Antigua. Their statuses were sanctioned by the Associated Statehood Act 1967. Instead of going down the scarry road of Independence, they choose to implement the rights and powers of the local people with the UK government. The condition of the Act entailed that each state had full control over its own constitution and self-governance, the United Kingdom retained responsibility for ONLY external affairs and military protection. The British monarch or the Queen remained still the symbol or head of state, but the Governor of the islands was a local citizen under the said constitutional powers. There was a complete division between the people running their own country and because they were helpless to the large Soveriegn Countries out there, the deal was that the UK would only intervene as a Protectorate. But interestingly this option has been brought up to our local politicians, and they have still refuse to education the Caymanian public about it, and they continually bark “Indepedence” to keep us in fear that if we should ever come from under her, we would be doomed – nothing is said about becoming a Free Associated State so FULL DEMOCRACY could thrive in the Cayman Islands. Check out my CNS’ Viewpoint, “The Unjust Clauses of the Cayman Constitution 2009”

    • O'Really says:

      Whilst I understand the appeal of free association over the existing status quo, it is in fact not on the table. The UK’s position, which flies in the face of the UN’s recommendations but to which they hold firm nonetheless, is that maintaining the status quo and independence are acceptable to them and integration and free association are not. So you can bang on about it all you like but in real world politics it’s not happening.

      What I took from Duckworth’s article is that it is going to be a long 2 years to the next election if the canvassing and spin has started this early. Watch out for the UDP rebuttal here shortly!

      • shirley says:

        This is so sad. Then that means Duckworth’s BLAME should really be pointed at the UK – not Caymanians, because in the end they could most generously comply with the UN recommendations and give the OT’s those options. O’Really, why are they confining us to a cheap artificial democracy??? I was born and raise here. I am a Caymanian. Don’t I at least deserve to have a voice and more options to choose from? I have a resentment… she is hiding alot from us and not giving us the whole deal!

        • O'Really says:

          I don’t know about attributing blame, but the UK could accept a relationship with it’s OT’s based on the free association concept; it just doesn’t feel it is appropriate. Whether or not this seems reasonable will be a function of which side of the debate you areon.

          My view is that there is more than meets the eye to simply accepting a free association relationship as the best of all worlds. Why do Caymanians generally not support independence? I would say the 2 main reasons are fear of killing the golden goose ( ie scaring away the clients on whom the financial service industry depends and which has in very large part generated the wealth which separates Cayman from other sea and sand only Caribbean countries ) and fear that Caymanian politicians cannot be trusted if there is no-one with the authority to rein them in should their excesses get too out of hand.

          As I understand the concept of free association advocated by the poster to whom I responded, the UK would have no authority whatsoever in Cayman’s internal affairs, but some agreed upon responsibilities for external affairs. If this is what is envisioned, then how is Cayman protected from the 2 concerns outlined in the paragraph above? I’m sure someone will tell me if I have missed the point here, but it seems to me that unless Caymanians are prepared to risk the problems that might arise from independence, they should not risk pushing for a free association relationship, although this is a moot point.

          • Orion says:

            “then how is Cayman protected from the 2 concerns outlined in the paragraph above? I’m sure someone will tell me if I have missed the point here” I think you have missed some points. #1 – Britain has never attributed to the well-being of our golden goose. We Caymanians fromt he start, from the days of Sir Vassel Johnson, built this financial industry without the UK’s intereference; and second #2 – our politicians are already out of sink with the people! What is needed is a more transparent government, a better Constitution with checks and balances, and power into the hands of the people. So we have to face our fears! If we want FULL democracy, we have to realize that there are other fears too in remaining “dependent” under the UK. Remember we are in a state where they can do just as they please to the inhabitants here, and the UN can’t do anything about it! Look at the corruption cases and how they used the taxpayers monies here to investigative cases that were meaningless. Look how they lost the cases. Look Turks and Cacois Islands, how they used them as they pleased just because they pin corruption on one man and his party. So the whole nation suffered and there is LIMITED Democracy there. The people under the UK’s rule are unable to be fully free. So there are alot of pro’s and cons on being dependent upon Britain. But again, let no one fool you, history records, we, Caymanians and the local people here, is what made the Cayman Islands a strong financial industry – not the UK!

            • O'Really says:

              Just curious, but you do know that Sir Vassell Johnson was born in Jamaica? And that in addition, the pioneers of the companies law and banking law, which kick started the financial industry we have today, were Jack Rose ( English ), Bill Walker ( Scottish ) and Jim MacDonald ( Canadian ). As you say, history records, but if you want your opinions to be takenseriously, it’s a good idea to know what it records.

              • Orion says:

                My point is, O’Really… whether they were from Tim-Buc-Tu, they were long serving residents here. Yes, these great people were born someplace else, but they were Caymanians at heart. To me a true Caymanian is one who lives here and contributes to the society they love and cherish. So… yes I certainly do know what is in the records of history. But what I further know as a fact O’Really, is that there was no UK official or accountant or visitor that came here overnight and made Cayman into a great financial industry that it is now – Rather, it was the people who lived here… be they mix, resident, or pure breed. Anyone to me who lives here and dedicates their whole life here serving the country, is Caymanian. And what they did, does the credit goes to the UK??? So still your argument holds no water. The UK has done nothing for the Cayman Islands, but display royal gong and meaningless ceremonies, showing off their symbols of power over us.

                • O'Really says:

                  I do not believe that anywhere in my posts have I argued that the UK had a direct impact on the development of the financial service industry here. There is no argument to hold water, you have missed the point.

                  I certainly believe and this is implied in my post, that the image of political stability given to Cayman by being an OT of the UK is an important factor in the decision of quality investors to use the islands. This is highly subjective and in my opinion the inability of Caymanians to assess how true this statement is and therefore what level of risk of losing these clients is posed by independence, is one of the main reasons for not pursuing independence. There is no going back if you get it wrong. The purpose of my original post was to point out that this situation also exists when pursuing a free association relationship with the UK.

                  Your last couple of sentences tell me I’m dealing with yet another Caymanian with an anti-colonialist chip on his/her shoulder. Your inability to recognise even the possibility that there is an indirect benefit of Cayman’s political relationship with the UK is undoubtedly a consequence of this.

                  My final comment is that I wish I could see any evidence at all in society at large and inthe politics of Cayman in particular, for the views you express in the first 3 sentences of your post. When prominent expats of long service to Cayman can stop exercising influence behind close doors and instead do so openly and be embraced by politicians and the population generally for doing so, maybe I’ll start to think things are changing. But what I see now and have for many years is a partnership where one partner desperately wants to get rid of another, but can’t because they reluctantly acknowledge which side their bread is buttered. 

    • 10 cents says:

      Is the FCO willing to let OT’s have the option of Free Association?

  6. Zzzzz says:

    Zzzzz… Informative… but PPM, I feel would have done us worse if it wasn’t for UDP to get us out of the rut! Despite the PPM’s vision for our country, they did little to ensure our economic stability. Kind Regards

  7. Anonymous says:

    Cayman at this stage in its development is in a tribal form of democracy where it is personality driven rather than issue or ideology driven.

    With the change in PPM leadership the party will completely change and that is a problem just as when McKeeva leaves the UDP that party will completely change.

    There is no clear ideological definition to either party as in more mature democracies. The rumors of items delivered for election day abound still which is an additional problem.

    Until the issues and ideology trump the pure personalities the political process in Cayman will remain confused and rudderless.

    Likely is will take several generations for the parties to find themselves. At this point I would guess that the PPM are more liberal and the UDP are more conservative but I expect to be corrected.

  8. .Anon says:

    Very timely reminder that the people of any country have responsibility for their own destiny. They just need to act constructively!

    It seems like people in Cayman complain when there isn’t even a problem!

    We must get more involved in our community and stop looking for solutions through excessive complaing about other peple, instead of looking at the cause of problems, and taking action to mitigate against further problems.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Well said Mr Duckworth! If democracy was only the election process,  then we could say that the citizens of Burma and Zimbabwe are living in a democracy. 

    Clearly democracy is much more complex, not least of which is, as you entreat, it required the active participation of ‘we the citizens’ in politics and civic life. Unfortunately, the present era of ‘Bushism’ in Cayman (where; individuals appointed to the various boards must be UDP supporters; lucrative goverment contracts are taken away from capable individual and handed over to UDP supporters and; worthy civil servants are put out to pasture in favour of those who are perceived to be UDP supporters)  has given rise to a divisive interaction between ‘we the citizens’. Inevitably there is a tension between our desire to serve the ‘public interest’ and our ‘private interest’ concerns where we fear that if we express our true views which may be critical of the UDP then our or our family member’s contract would be terminated or similarly a Board would refuse an essential permit/license.  Not surprisingly, self preservation dictates that our ‘private interest’ concerns takes precedence. As a result we may be perceived to be apathetic to the ‘public interest’ concerns.

    Are these the problems of small societies?  Perhaps…..alternatively it may be an issue of social engineering.  We could start by limiting  the mandate of our elected individuals to ensure that government boards, national advisory councils and the civil service, are not be interfered with. This woudl go a long way toward  removing themuffle we all fear we must wear.

    This Stanford paper sheds some light on the complex subject of democracy.

    • Anonymous says:

      The “parties” in Cayman don’t appear to have distinct points of view, a usual feature of parties elsewhere. It all looks like small town personal politics.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think Mr. Duckworth did a goo job in pointing his party’s points of view on a variety of issues. Did you read the article?