CS needs clarity on petitions

| 06/05/2011

(CNS):The constitutional commissioners called on government on Friday to clarify the position of civil servants when it comes to signing petitions and engaging generally in political activity. With the introduction of people initiated referendum in the new constitution, which requires the signatures of 25% of the electorate, it is still not clear whether civil servants are allowed to sign petitions that may be used to trigger national polls. Although the Public Service Management Law says civil servants are expected to remain politically neutral in terms of their work, it doesn’t provide any real details defining political activity, or policies offering clear directions on the limits of participation.

The issue is gathering increased attention as a number of petitions are currently circulating in Cayman that could eventually be used to trigger a referendum. The question of the participation of public sector workers has been raised because of the significant number of voters that work directly for government or for public authorities.

Before the implementation of the PMSL (the new law that now governs public sector workers) and before the advancement of the constitution, the General Orders governed their conduct and that did prohibit civil servants from signing petitions.

In response to a Civil Service Association request in April 2008 the Chief Secretary’s Office issued orders saying civil servants could not take part in “any public demonstration or event that can be construed as objecting to any actions or proposals by the government of the day,” but this response did not refer to any particular statutory provisions.

“The Cayman Islands Civil Service deserves to be provided with clearly defined policies detailing any limitations or restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression and the freedom to be politically informed,” the constitutional commissioners have said with regards to their recent examination of the issue. “The commission recommends that the Head of the Civil Service meet with the Civil Service Association to formulate appropriate guidelines regarding involvement in political activities.”

The commissioners have called for details specifying the existing limitations, such as the prohibition on running for public office, as well as defining the nature of political activities contemplated by the PSML and addressing the current ambiguities.

In its latest findings the commission has pointed out that there is a balance to be found between the exercise of democratic values, such as freedom of expression, with the professional neutrality of a civil servant. However, the commissioners also note that restrictions on civil servants when it comes to participating in issues of national importance could undermine their democratic rights and freedom of expression which is held by all regardless of whether one works for government or not.

The commissioners also pointed out the potential different circumstances of the several thousand workers that had to be considered and the modernization of government, which is moving away from the past secretive method of governance.

“In practice, the relative power and influence of senior officials varies from government to government, and with the character and experience of the officials and their ministers,” the commissioners stated. “Modern developments, including freedom of information, less deferential media and more assertive citizens, are making the workings of government more open and transparent, moving away from the ethos of secrecy previously nurtured by the Official Secrets Act and General Orders. Other jurisdictions are actively promoting a more open sharing of governance issues and allowing more freedom for civil servants.”

The constitutional guardians also raised the issue of what type of public sector worker needs to be restricted from political activism as in some jurisdictions none of the restrictions on civil service political activism apply to workers lower down the pay grade.

Although more senior officers in the UK are restricted from holding office in a political party or making public speeches on matters of political controversy articles, canvassing for candidates or running for office, civil servants in the industrial and non-office grades are known as the “politically free” category and they can take part in all political activities.

The commissioners also found that in the UK there is discretion to permit other staff to take part in local or national political activities in accordance with prescribed guidelines. When the commissioners contacted the Scottish Parliament it confirmed that anyone, including civil servants, can both present and sign petitions.

“Having regard to the advancements made for more openness and transparency in a democratic society, it is now timely that the question of the level of involvement in political activity afforded to civil servants is clarified,” the commission stated, adding that the local context for Cayman was important but the sizeof the jurisdiction shouldn’t undermine the rights of civil servants to know where they stand.

“While it may be argued that the size of the jurisdiction is an important factor to be considered, it can also be argued that providing clear procedure and processes and promoting open, respectful communication is essential in establishing good governance no matter how large or small the populace is,” the commission stated.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Votes are votes baby!  Well, i guess just how we get the type of government we deserve, you get the type of civil service association you deserve. from what I hear of it, the civil service election last month was illegal, for only 25 peopl voted in the same slate of people as were there before uncontested. im not sure if these government accountants mixed up the 25% signatures needed with 25 people!  IF so, tha is a pitiful and illegal turnout from a service of almost 3000 people. can someone confirm this, and is its so try to get a new leader?

    But if i was still there to challenge it i would, it's up to the workers to demand strong leadership, not people who tell them "not to sign petitions".  and they should also be encouraging democracy and opennnes instead of the cloaking mentality.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It's pretty simple: if you strongly support a petition issue, then grow a pair and add your name to it.  Better to do that with a clear conscience then live with the consequences of your apathy.   

    • Dennie Warren Jr. says:

      Amen!  What is the government going to do if all civil servants sign? Not a thing!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Well, we have seen what we get when the civil servants can't voteor participate in any petitions etc. It may work in other places but in Cayman there are not enough registered voters as it is and a huge junk of people who would be eligible to vote has been eliminated as they are civil servants.

    I guess this works in favor of certain politicians as they will have to buy fewer fridges or pave fewer drive ways.

    Civil servants need to have a voice!

    CNS: Civil servants can vote in elections and referendums. This article is about signing petitions.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Most developed juridictions allow civil servants freedom of expression and freedom to choose and publicly support a party of their choice. They also must do the job they are paid to carry out based on their job description and proper supervision. Once there is no interference they are free to the above and do not have to remain "nuetral".

    • Anonymous says:

      "….freedom to choose and publicly support a party of their choice." This is simply not true.

      • A Canadian says:

        The first post said: "Most developed juridictions allow civil servants freedom of expression and freedom to choose and publicly support a party of their choice."

        This is certainly true in Canada, which is certainly a developed jurisdiction, and those rights are enshrined in our Constitution amongst our highest laws, and are something that a good number of us remain ready to stand, fight and die to defend and protect, as those before us have done in our great history of defending freedom and democracy.  That includes the 45,383 who stood and died in WW2 protecting, amongst other things, the freedoms your Motherland now enjoys and defends on your behalf. 

        What made you give up so easily? 

        • Brian Mulooney says:

          So, A Canadian, if a civil servant in Canada, especially a senior one,  made it publicly clear, verbally or in writing, that he or she did not support Harper's Conservative government but instead supported the Liberals, this would arouse no comment and would  be seen as quite normal? I'm just asking as I genuinely don't know.

          The lecture on Canadian pride, valour and virtues and your final question seemed a bit gratuitous.

          • A Canadian says:

            OK then…. The Public Service of Canada serves the Crown, as represented by the Governor General, and does not bow to nor is it beholden to the government of the day.  Protections are in place to preserve that.

            Practically speaking, the various ministries of the government are headed politically by the Ministers, and these people are members of cabinet appointed by the government, and as such are there purely due to their party affiliation.  Obviously they toe the party line of the government.

            Next in line is the Deputy Minister, who is the head Civil Servant for that ministry and attends to the operational side.  They are staff, and not government per se.  This one person is restricted in their political activities: they may vote but not more.  This might be best thought of as being justified because this single person is the point of contact between the politicial side and the "employee" side of the Public Service, and that needs to be a functioning relationship.

            After that, there's a handful of Assistant Deputy Ministers, and everyone under them.  All of these people can do whatever they like so long as it does not impair their ability to do their jobs.  Were they to be fired or harrased because of their political activities, speeches, publicly opining against Harper et al, or whatever, that would constitute a serious breach of ethics on the part of the Minister and/or the government, andwould also constitute grounds for suing the governent or taking proceedings under their Collective Agreement, or both. 

            In short, aside from the Deputy Minister it's a free-for-all.  And it works just fine.

            Sorry for the long answer.  I'm not sorry for waving my flag.

            …and Brian Mulroney was no patriot: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_affair


            • Brian Mulooney says:

              Thanks for your answer, A Canadian. Helpful and good of you to take the trouble. With at least one eye on the very small Cayman political/civil service scene, I query (without comment) only this bit "can do whatever they like so long as it does not impair their ability to do their jobs".

              I am Mulooney, not Mulroney; I am fully aware of the latter's reputation. Next time, for the avoidance of doubt, I will sign myself as Preston Manning, eh?

    • Florence Goring-Nozza says:

      Civil Servants are not aliens from outer space. They are citizens of their country therefore their rights to exercise their democratic right to freedom of speech over rules any Civil Servant governing policy or standing orders of neutrality in politics.

      Since civil servants are members of society and the constituency to which they belong, then their voice must be heard  whether by petition or referendum. It is an inaliable right that CANNOT BE  taken away from them and they should not stand idly by and alow this to happen to them..This civil servant  gagging policy of neutrality is a detriment to the democratic process. They deserve the same rights as all other voters and constitutients.

      There should be no doubt in the Constitution commissioners minds what should adequately constitute the petitioning or referendum rights of  Cayman Islands civil servants.

      My interpretation of this matter arising is that the civil servant is a strong arm of the voting block and can indeed  change governments for better and for worse. Hopefully they have awaken from their sleep where this present government and yesterday's government is concerned . We hope that civil servants can see clearly now that we need new blood in the hot seat and not MORE OF THE SAME from either party!    Its time for a real change. We need strong independent men and women candidates in the next election or we're doomed for More OF THE SAME, which would be a DUMB move……deja vu all over again

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am a Civil Servant, and I can tell you, it is not fair if we can’t vote! Yes, we ought to remain neutral, but to not allow us the right to vote, is to make us MUTE to serious issues effecting the ENTIRE Cayman Islands! I personally don’t want to see certain things legislated and I am sick of the administration of this government, and yet I am polite, submissive, neutral, hardworking, and respectful to my MLA’s – I put my people first! In other places around the world, Civil Servants can vote – so why is Cayman so different??? Something has to be done about this!

    • Rorschach says:

      You need to understand the difference between VOTING, which NO ONE can prevent you from doing, if you are qualified to do so, because your choice is private, except should you discuss your choice and SIGNING a PETITION….which openly states your identity and what issue you are voicing your support for…..civil servants MUST be seen to remain neutral…the CSA does NOT prevent civil servants from voting in referendums, elections, etc..

      • Rorschach says:

        I wish some of you that thumbs down would write and explain your reasons…I can't understand why you would thumbs down a suggestion that you should understand your rights and exercise them instead of choosing to remain in the dark and not educated yourselves….For far too long the powers that be have relied on the lack of knowledge of Standing Orders by the majority of the CS and instead used this lack of knowledge to perpetuate the falsehoods which give rise to this kind of thinking…

        • cccccccj says:

          I thumbs down not at you, but the system of governance that needs to be changed. Certain laws should never be on the books, and when it comes to democratic process, civil servant or not, everyone should be able to participate. To separate them from the people is wrong!

          • Anonymous says:

            When people put "thumbs down" next to a comment it is imposdsible to know what they are disagreeing with it many cases it may be only one point out of many. If someone puts a "thumbs up" its clear they agree with the comment. 

            • Gx says:

              You can also reason that when people put "thumbs up" next to a comment it is impossible to know what they are agreeing with!  Maybe cns should just get rid of the "thumbs up and thumbs down" option, and then you will see everyone posting a comment – why they agree and why they disagree. But I don't think that would be giving people much options. Another thing I would like to see, are emoticons like smilie face, sad face, tired face, happy face, angry face, etc… so you can see imagine the emotional reactions from people on this site regarding a certain issue. Now that I think would be interesting if cns implemented that to their comments.

        • Anonymous says:

          That is why i have suggested before that only "thumbs up" be allowed on any commentary.  Too many "thumbs down" on perfectly rational and accurate comments.  If you disagree then write your commentary or find one that reflects your point of view and put the "thumbs up" there!! 


          • Anonymous says:

            CNS, I think he has a valid point, and I think it would encourage more people to make their comments on your site. CNN internet site does this

          • Foxtrot Yankee Alpha says:

            I gave you a thumbs down, and I'm not telling you why.  It's called free speech, but I choose not to post about that either. 

            Live long and prosper.

        • Anonymous says:

          You received thumbs down, and I just gave you one, because you are trying to boil complex issues down to a simple yea or nay political choice.

          For example, I am for protecting the environment. Many people try to take protection of the environment as anti-development, and hence they say some destruction/degredation of the environment is necessary for progress.

          Taking the above example to the extreme, the ignorant masses are then led to believe that they have a choice between dredging the North Sound or paying property taxes.

          I really don't care who stands to benefit, I am against dredging the North Sound to accommodate mega yachts, and I am against the destruction of the shorline in East End for the same purpose.

      • The Watchers says:

        Does cayman REALLY have a law or policy that prevents civil servants from participating in the political process?  REALLY?  Why on earth does a civil servant not have a right to support or oppose a political party, or a policy, or complain at a lack of transparency in the appropriation of tax dollars, or anything else?  Who gave Mac the right to silience these Caymanians?  Caymanians?  Must have been.  Sheep, if that's the case, and you get what you deserve.

    • Anonymous says:

       Yes! What is it exactly that makes Cayman "different"?

      Hint: Who are the people who let this happen to them?

  6. #2 from Brac says:

    20:14 to you – By any means, YES!

  7. Anonymous says:

    The problem with petitions is that so many of them have nothing to do with an actual policy. Let’s take the foolishness in East End with the proposed Port.

    I am not for it or against it. I don’t know what is proposed and neither does ANYONE. But there are people for political reasons who are AUTOMATICALLY opposed and rallying troops. They want to bolster their numbers with civil servants to ‘make a point’.

    Let’s explore the dangers of this:

    How can you sign something for something that is not a proper proposal yet with details, EIA, cost benefit, economic impact study etc?

    Now assuming and it is a big assumption the things mentioned before are used correctly by government to inform their decision- the petition is of no value because it is not based on facts- or the same set of facts explored by government. IN the case of the east end port, no decision is made yet. So what are people petitioning against, an idea? We aren’t allowed to have ideas anymore in this country?

    It is just political posturing and civil servants should stay clear of taking sides. This is but one example of the danger of signing petitions.

    It will be very interesting tosee what the opposition has to say about civil servants petitioning. Some of them weren’t too happy about civil servants petitioning against their ideas and proposals- some of which should have been petitioned i.e. THE SCHOOLS!

  8. Anonymous says:

    It makes perfect sense for a Civil to be able to sign such a petition.  The partition is asking for the government.  It is not saying that what the government is doing has to be over turned but just that the people should be polled to see what they want.  To not approve their participation is a slap in the face of democracy.

    • Anonymous says:

      I noticed that the head of the Civil Service Association said the CS were not supposed to sign the partition. Fine and well. But if the CS is the largest hiring body in the Cayman Islands and a very high percentage are Caymanians, then how can partitions truely represent the interests of the local people. it would seem to me that you would almost have to get expats to sign to get a significant number. It certainly does not bode well for the country when the largest number are forced to shut there mouths.

  9. petermilburn says:

    I see absolutely no reason why the Civil Service should stay nuetral when the future of the country might be at stake re petitions or referendums that may be called for from time to time.If they can vote then they should be able to participate without fear of repercusions re job lose etc.After all its the Democratic way (or should be).

    • Anonymous says:

      So, Mr Milburn, do you think CUC, Lime, Walkers, Maples and Calder, Campbells, KPMG, Ernst and Young, Deloitte, Caymanian Compass, Red Sails and Sunset Divers (if they still exist) etc etc would be quite happy for their employees to be signing documents which possibly criticise them???

      • Anonymous says:

        They are private companies, and they answer to their shareholders. Governments can be viewed in a similar light, with the voters being shareholders. Civil Servants are also voters, and there is no way the voting rights of this bloc can be restricted or ignored. Once the vote is taken, Civil Servants are once again obliged to abide by the majority rule.

      • Anonymous says:

        The difference is that Civil Servants are not employed by Politicians, they are employed by the Country. They pay taxes like everyone else and their voices should be heard

      • Lachlan MacTavish says:

        Anon  20:14  All the above are private companies. The CS is a public group paid for "by the people". In small countries with small voting blocks street wise politicians use the CS and companies like CAL to further there political ambitions by controlling their voices. Think about how many votes that is. 

      • Anonymous says:

        Excellent point, anon 20:14.

      • Anonymous says:

        A petition is not a criticism it is simply a document representing the wishes of 25% or more of the electorate. Civil servants have just as much right to express their wishes as any other voter! Are you suggesting that if I worked for one of those firms I would not have the right to speak up if theri practices went against my beliefs? The plantation colonial days are over my friend! step into the new era please and leave the discriminatory “hold you down” idealogies in the past! PLEASE!!!

      • Anonymous says:

        just because your list of employers may not be ‘quite happy’ at their employees signing certain documents, doesn’t mean the world has to continue on path they may headed, just to line their pockets.  EVERYONE! can choose to say how they may want their future to play out. 

      • Anonymous says:

        They do, and then send them to the Immigration Board, the majority just to cause problems

      • Anonymous says:

        Of course not, they won’t be happy! But this is the only time our voices can be heard! If the employers don’t want to listen their employees listen then something has to wake them up! Besides how can you compare a business entity to our government??? Seriously, are employers “elected” by the people???

      • Dennie Warren Jr. says:

        Since the “rights” enumerated in The Cayman Islands Constitutional Order 2009, effectively a UK colonial administrative document, apply vertically and not horizontally, private companies are not be obligated to respect your “rights,” as an employee, butthe government and its administration have a legal obligation to respect the “rights” of every person.  Unfortunately, it is possible to contract away some aspects of your rights.

        That is one example to show why the government should not be compared to a privately operated business, as you have done.

        Section 31(3) of the “Constitution” permits the Governor of the Cayman Islands to act against the interest of the Cayman Islands.  It reads: "In the exercise of his or her functions under subsection (2), the Governor shall endeavour to promote good governance and to act in the best interests of the Cayman Islands so far as such interests are consistent with the interests of the United Kingdom."[1]  Some of us call it the Irish Famine Clause, because that clause provides lawful authorization for the Governor to act immorally towards the Cayman Islands.  Privately operated businesses are not constituted to act against the interest of its shareholders.

        That is another example to show why the government should not be compared to a privately operated business, as you have done.

        John Mitchel, the author of a widely circulated tract on the famine, The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps) in 1861.  In it he established the widespread view that the treatment of the famine by the British was a deliberate murder of the Irish, and contained the famous phrase:

        “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine."[2]

        “Mitchel was charged with sedition because of his writings, but this charge was dropped and he was convicted by a packed jury under the newly enacted Treason Felony Act and sentenced to 14 years transportation to Bermuda.”

        I can only hope that enough Caymanians will soon wake up.



        [1] The Cayman Islands Constitutional Commission: http://www.knowyourconstitution.ky

        [2] Wikipedia, Great Famine (Ireland): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_%28Ireland%29

    • Anonymous says:

      If they cannot sign the petition then the percentage of registered voters required to initiate a referendum should be decreased to reflect those who cannot sign it. Simple math – if there are 125 registered voters 32 required for a referendum if 25 are civil servants then 25 registered voters should only be needed to initiate a referendum. The registered civil servants should not be part of the equation if they cannot sign the petition. However, they should be able to sign it as it is of national importance.