‘Indies’ back ‘treating’ ban

| 02/04/2013

vote-for-me.jpg(CNS): Several independent candidates have welcomed the clampdown on catering at public meetings during the official campaign period for the 2013 elections and agree that it could be interpreted as treating. Given that those running on their own platform usually have less to spend on campaigns than the major parties, teams or alliances, candidates going into the election battle alone say the enforcement should help level a playing field that can be unfair to them. Although politicians have traditionally offered refreshments at their meetings, which can last for three hours or more, the Elections Office is now keen to stamp out increasingly lavish events, which they say constitutes inducement.

Ezzard Miller, who has already fought several campaigns under his own steam, said he welcomed the move by the Elections Office because the emphasis on the refreshments in many of the ads and flyers during election campaigns madeit obvious that it was used as an attraction.

“If it was not intended to attract a bigger audience, why advertise and promote it so boldly?” Miller asked. “It seems a direct attempt to attract a larger audience to provide a greater opportunity to influence more people to vote for the candidates. The purpose of the meetings is to influence people to vote for a particular individual or group to enhance their chances to form the next government. I believe it is against our existing law and that the law should be enforced across the board on all candidates, especially now that we have all been warned by the election officials," he added.

On nomination night Stefan Baraud, an independent candidate running in George Town, returned his food when he heard that officials would be interpreting the traditional catering as treating. But down the road at the C4C launch refreshments were still served, leaving a question mark over how far the Elections Office is prepared to go.

On Friday Elections Supervisor Kearney Gomez said that, going forward, the office would be keeping a close eye on this issue as they believed that anything more than water would be considered ‘treating’ and the office would be monitoring meetings. In the past candidates have hosted lavish parties, where even alcohol has been served, but the Elections Office said that it would not permit that kind of flagrant abuse of the law and, as a result, it is drawing a strict line.

Dr Frank McField, who has fought elections as part of the party machinery and on his own, said treating has an historical meaning in Cayman that relates directly to inducement and the office is right to put a stop to it. However, he warned that it could be difficult to prove that a person was guilty of treating in a political context and therefore hard to enforce.

The former cabinet minister explained that it goes back to the days when merchants running for office provided cows for butchering, with the beef to be divided among the community only if they were successful at the polls. 

“Enforcement of this section of our election law is well overdue and will, in addition to the cap on spending by candidates, assist in levelling the political landscape for all, a condition needed for many election seasons,” McField noted.

Dwene Ebanks said the letter of the law may be unclear but the spirit was about free and fair elections, which he said means free from any undue influence or persuasions. "Arguably, food, drinks and entertainment may present a case whereby the variables are open for individual interpretations," he said, but added that  in the interest of good democratic principles he supported the efforts of the elections office.

Bo Miller, who is also fighting for one of the capital’s six seats, said he supported the clampdown too, saying it was time voters focused on the issues and the candidates’ solutions instead of rewards.

“The political process in recent past has been to condition some people into believing that they should expect something personal for their support and ultimately their vote. While this may be attractive to some, it certainly has not resulted in a free and fair process,” he observed. "It is past due that we free ourselves from this nonsense."

Vincent Frederick, who has thrown his hat into the Bodden Town fight, said he felt the law was reasonable. “Corruption has been on going in these islands for years, especially during the last election, and I throw my support behind the Election Office, the observers and the police in their efforts to stamp out the many different forms of corruption,” he added.

Joey Ebanks, who has so far been running his campaign for a seat in North Side on the pages of Facebook, told CNS that he also believed it would level the playing field. The free entertainment provided by parties has grown into a major undertaking, he said.

“It falsely implies that the parties are better organized and able to better govern than independents,” said Ebanks, who was recently arrested over financial irregularities at the ERA, where he was managing director until his resignation last week. If the law was enforced, people would attend meetings, not for refreshments, but to hear the candidates' positions on the issues, he noted.

“Finally, no more smoke and mirrors. Candidates cannot hide their inabilities behind the entertainment; they must have a clear understanding of why they want to be elected,” Ebanks added, pointing out that he planned to hold a Q&A after his meeting, where he has promised to expose corruption in high office.

Meanwhile, Andrea Christian, who is campaigning for a seat in West Bay, said she supported the decision, despite the sudden change now faced by the electors and candidates.

“One of my concerns has always been the need to continually educate and inform the electorate so that the most ethical, qualified, concerned citizens are elected to manage the affairs of these islands. We need to accept the responsibility as candidates to communicate our messages without gift or favours,” she added.

However, Matthew Leslie, another independent candidate running in George Town, pointed to the cultural role food plays in Cayman’s community. Leslie said he had every intention of respecting the law but when people were going out of their way from work or home without eating to come and sit for two to four hours to listen to candidates, it wasn’t unreasonable for some refreshments to be on offer.

“I doubt a vote will be gained by serving juice or water or some little food. Voters are smarter than that,” Leslie observed.

Candidates running in teams, however, were more circumspect about how influential catering at a public meeting can really be.

Mervin Smith, who was on the C4C platform last Wednesday evening where catering was provided for all who attended, said it was an exaggeration to suggest a vote could be bought with a plate of food or a can of soda. However, if election officials were saying that it is illegal to offer food and beverages, then he would ensure it didn’t happen at his meetings.

“I ask those election officials to ensure that it is enforced across the board, thereby eliminating any advantage,” he said, calling for a review of this section of the Elections Law because he found it hard to believe that a person would be persuaded to vote for an individual or party based on the refreshments.

Former Cabinet minister in the last PPM government, Charles Clifford, who is running for a seat in Bodden Town and also rumoured to be running on the C4C ticket, pointed out that there were many scenarios that could constitute 'treating' under the Elections Law. Although he welcomed the news of greater enforcement, he questioned whether the provision of refreshments was treating as he believed it was stretching the definition far beyond what legislators intended. 

“This is a traditional and cultural norm in Cayman and it could only be considered 'treating' if it can be proven that it was being done to 'corruptly' influence voters,” Clifford said.

This was also the position taken by Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin, who said a plate of curried chicken or a soda couldn’t be considered a direct inducement to vote in a particular way. He pointed out that political meetings and rallies could be long, with people stopping to listen on their way home from work, and that was why food was generally offered. McLaughlin said voters wanted to hear what the candidates have to say but should not have to sacrifice their supper to listen to the views of those running for office.

“We will be following the law,” the leader of the PPM said of his party, but he raised concerns that the issue could become a side show, detracting from the importance of the election and the genuine problems of corruption in office. McLaughlin said the law was quite clear that ‘treating’ was a direct inducement by a politician to a voter and not the open provision of some refreshments during a four hour rally to all who passed by.

CNS Online Poll: Should the provision of food for potential voters at campaign rallies be allowed?

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I don't need food.  I do need a fridge.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is more than a little bit silly.  If you can buy a vote for a bottle of water and a plate of oxtail we have bigger problems on this Island than "treating".   So I am going to vote for Jude Scott because his curry chicken was better than Mark Scott's? Really???  Is our electorate that stupid (or hungry)? 

  3. Anonymous says:

    I bet the brownies at a Dr Frank rally would be the best election brownies ever.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Why not have people come in and sell food and drink. Make it one company do all of the meetings. Like a pirates week.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why not stop worrying about the food and worry about the more important issues here instead.  I know times are extremely hard and most of us have families to get home to attend to etc. but in order for us to have a better future, sometimes we have to allow our guts to growl just a little and hopetully we wont faint and fall to the dirt while sitting hungry and trying to absorb whats being discussed (hopefully it will be more discussions than mudslinging) because some of us love the political drama.  These are serious times people, please be diligent.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why not forget food and drinks altogether and get on with the business at hand – politics.  I mean its not like these rallies go on all day or night so why the need for food and drinks anyway?  I am sure we're all quite capable of getting our own.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Can CNS find the adverts from the last campaign in 2009 for Ezzard Miller’s Election Rally in Northside which promised lots of “Giveaways”, including mobile phones etc….. He seems to have come all “holier than thou now”‘ saying he never “treats”….. Not sure if they were in CNS or Compass or both….

    • Anonymous9 says:

      If all of the other candidates were doing it, he would certainly need to compete with that. Would be silly not to.

      Don't forget Mac's comment about 'those that have the money can run for office"… Deep pockets!!

    • Anonymous says:

      Joey Ebanks is that you again trying to pull Ezzard down to your level? Look to your left, do you see the restraint chair? Yep that’s where you will be sitting for the rest of the year, please have a seat nobody really wants to hear what you have to say about Ezzard because you can never ever walk in his shoes.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Well guess that means we will have problem come Taste of Cayman! Gosh dangit! And I was looking forward to voting for the best booth! Remember “What’s good for one is good for all”!!

  7. Anonymous says:

    sort of like the PPM inviting the country singer what a BIG TREAT that was!

    • Anonymous says:

      He spoke and performed free of charge…so does that still count as treating? I wouldn’t think so…

    • Anonymous says:

      Sill I can't understand why they would request  a country and western singer who has no affliation with people of colour much less culture to speak to the people of the Cayman Islands.  Honestly this country is so loosing the plot.  Fancy that a person with no understaning of a caribbean culure.  It would have been better if they had send Little Wayne since they are going down the avenue of stupidity.

    • Rorschach says:

      If you actually heard him speak, it was obvious that he was under the impression that he was invited here as some sort of charity social gig and NOT as the entertainment at a political rally…the poor guy was completely duped…

  8. Anonymous says:

    MB has lost my respect, no food and drink will ever persuade me after seeing the China deal he almost put the country in to grant over 300 work permits and leave out Caymanians?!  Shameful 

    • Anonymous says:

      Who is going to Bat.  It is like a basball game.  Watch MB runnnnnnn.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Is it ok for people to take their own food then.  Sitting down for two and half hours is a long time.  

    • Anonymous says:

      only in cayman…..zzzzzzzzzzzzz

      ever wonder about the obesity probblem among locals????? 

  10. Anonymous says:

    My comments to this is that people who are going out 7.30 to these meetings should not go, because they are just getting home from work and need to cook.  Why go and spend  two and a half hours until 10. pm with out having a glass of water a juice or a sandwich, it is down right mean and selfish.   I have heard many independent persons say these words "I dont have anything to give any of them so they will have to drink water and eat before they come out"   This tells you how they are thinking.  I will not be going to any of the meetings unless I  stop and buy  my box of KFC or Jerk Chicken.  Sorry to embarrass any one but I will have to be eating while I am listening. 

  11. Anonymous says:

    This is a classic red herring. Why not concentrate on actual cash payments and gifts given expressly for votes? What about the payments to politicians after the election to get preferential treatment.?  The fact is it would be impossible to convict anyone of vote buying for serving refreshments at a rally. This is a waste of breath, but I can see why the independents like the issue.

    • Anonymous says:

      Amid all the talk about "cultural norms". is two loads of marl delivered just before the election a "cultural norm"? That means my neighbours are really into culture because it has happened at the last four elections. And I bet it will happen again.

    • P says:

      Look at the photos who is overweight. This one of Caymans main problems greed and obesity.

    • Anonymous says:

      That would make too much sense. Kearney and crew would rather focus on food and drinks instead of real issues. Why has there not been any charges against persons who were handing out cheat sheets with names of candidates in 2009?