The Cayman Islands is experiencing a growth spurt in the area of political awareness and constitutional reform.
This is most evident by the open and frank discussions regarding the constitution, our relationship with the United Kingdom and even the lively debates on the talk show circuits.
One area that I would like to focus on is that of political corruption.
In any democracy political corruption is seen as a serious threat and erodes the basic principles on which a democracy is formed.
Corruption poses a serious threat to us as a developing country.
It goes against all principles of good governance by ignoring formal processes and allows politicians to concentrate on their own personal gains.
You may think that this is an issue that only academics should be concerned about. However, let me assure you that it is one in which all of us have a vested interest and should take very personally.
Have you ever met a politician that has a sense of entitlement about them? I dare say that is the norm for politicians and not the exception. They feel entitled to your vote; hence the need to not have to work particularly hard for it. They feel entitled to ministerial positions; hence the attitude that they ‘deserved the position 20 years before’. They feel a sense of entitlement to not adhere to the rule of law; hence the constant dispensing with legislation they feel does not apply to them. They feel entitled to not fully represent you the voter; hence the attitude that you only have a say once every four years. They feel entitled to keep information from the public; hence the secretive nature of governmental contracts. This sense of entitlement also is permeated through government in their dealings with various businesses and organizations.
Recently, a seasoned, long standing politician said to me that hotels and some businesses are investing millions of dollars in Cayman. My question that elicited this response was in relation to the ongoing beach access problem.
This statement got me to thinking about the logic behind this reasoning. Does that mean that these hotels can have total disregard for the law because they have made a substantial investment? Is that the nature of doing business in Cayman? I often hear small business owners complaining that they are held to a different standard than larger companies.
We see time and time again where large companies do not pay pensions, gratuities and abuse their employees and yet suffer no real consequences.
Exceptions are made for corporations in the form of building regulations, the employment law, beach access and as of late even total disregard for the Port Authority Law.
As is my usual and customary position I like to offer some solutions to the problem:
True Accountability: Instead of having good governance and accountability be words of convenience and a means of garnishing votes let us put our words in action and embed these concepts firmly into our constitution and/or legislation. There should be provisions that serve to curtail the actions of renegade politicians. I support referendum and recall as useful measures. Also, we all possess the power of the pen on Election Day. Do not allow politicians with repeated questionable behavior to continue taking this country down the well paved road of destruction. The need for transparency is also key to maintaining accountability. Transparency allows for feedback during or before action is taken. One good example of this is the disclosure of contracts.
Term Limits: It is often joked that being a politician in Cayman is a life long job. Elected officials either die in office or they are voted out. I have yet to see one step aside gracefully. Term limits often do what the electorate will not or cannot – remove a senior individual from office who no longer is on the job to represent the people. Career politicians are affectively taken care of and younger, more energetic individuals are given the chance to be of service. The fact of the matter is longevity in political office leads to potential corruption.
NGO’s: Non-Governmental organizations can play a very useful role as watchdogs in the political arena. They have an important role to play in any democracy. Their role extends from educating the public to monitoring the activity of government. Sometimes they will be the only voice that the average person will have and can offer some balance to debates.
Role of the Media: The media also has an important role to play in eliminating corruption in politics. They must have access to information. It is my hope that a Freedom of Information Act will be forthcoming sooner rather than later. The media is also responsible to not just report on safe stories based on press releases, but also be probative in their reporting – basic investigative reporting. They are obligated to inform the public of government abuses.
Role of the Voter: Finally, it comes down to you and me. As voters we do have a say in the way in which our politicians conduct themselves. We have to hold them to a higher standard and expect more of them when in office. After all, we have placed them in a position to represent us and carry forth our mandate. If they are more concerned about protecting the ability of multi-million dollar establishments to circumvent the law then it is time we remove them. If they are more concerned about the balance in their own bank accounts it is time we remove them. If they are more concerned about who will get a ministerial position among them then it is time we remove them.