The assumption made in most democratic nations, including ours, is that a free press is necessary for the existence of a democratic society. My opinions with regards this assumption are too many for me to state them here.
I can say, however, that my understanding of a free press does not include newspapers that are in the service of the opposition or ruling party. There should be an attempt by editors to report not just what the government is saying and doing, but also what the opposition is doing and/or saying.
I have noticed that the Compass is often at odds with the Net News when it comes to the reporting of facts about many issues, not just those of a political nature. A case in point of course would be the ways in which the three current newspapers, the Compass, Net News and the Observer, reported on the Auditor General’s third and final report on the Government’s Affordable Housing Initiative.
The Observer wrote its story as the Auditor General reported it. Nevertheless, their headline, ‘AHI: ‘Political Interference”, might give the impression to those that read only the headline that the final audit was about political interference. The Compass also wrote mainly the Auditor’s reported content, however your headline read: ‘Audit slams Housing Trust’. I did get the impression that your reporter was more able or willing to show that the focus of the audit had been the management of the Trust.
The Net News, on the other hand, mixed the facts of the Auditor’s report with statements they attributed to me, often taking my statements out of context. ‘AG ‘appalled’ how houses allocated’ was the headline of the Net News. The statements I was supposed to have made to that newspaper were recorded by hand. Most of what was recorded of what I said and how I said it depended on the reporter’s selection. Perhaps she wanted to please her editor’s subjectivity and desire to help give the past government a bad name.
After all, reporters are human, too, even if the principles they profess are a bit high and mighty. I mean they have to eat too, and women and men do strange things for ‘bread’. Or perhaps some members of the press in Cayman believe that only out-of-favour politicians use or have used their positions to influence, or ‘interfere’ in the distribution of power, and its resources.
Being free from political interference is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the existence of a free press. Yes it is true that the press needs to be objective to be free, as much as it needs to be free to be objective. I know or guess that most papers are never totally free from economic considerations but some editors in Cayman seem to make their financial survival more important than others.
From a reading of the Net News the reader is to believe that this last part of the audit into the affairs of the AHI has to do with Dr. Frank McField, former Minister responsible for the scheme and former Chairman of the Trust. However, reading the Compass I got the impression that this last audit was mainly to do with the inefficiency of management.
One hundred and thirty-two out of the intended 200 homes were completed pre-Ivan; therefore the Trust’s projected cash flow that was based on mortgaging 200 houses was interrupted. The UDP knew after Ivan that it would have to assist the Trust just like it had to assist many other organisations that had an interruption of income. The UDP government plans were to build temporary facilities at Fairbanks for workers brought in to Cayman to help rebuild our country. The UDP would have also built 72 apartments at Eastern Avenue as fast as possible in order to make as short as possible the interruption in the Trust’s cash flow. These plans were put on hold by the PPM after the defeat of the UDP at the polls on 11 May 2005.
One action of the new PPM government was to remove the existing Board of Directors of the National Housing and Community Development Trust, destroying all possibility of continuity. They then placed the financial manager in virtual total and absolute control of the Housing Trust. Where I might agree that Ivan affected all our lives and government suffered much disorganisation for many months after the disaster much would have been different if the UDP had remained in charge. We all know how much a new government likes to destroy the projects of the government they are taking over from.
Certainly many of the homeowners defaulted in the months after the election. This I attribute to the attacks by the PPM against the initiative. PPM actions destabilised the project by discrediting it and those associated with it, thereby creating the absence of authority that then led to many of the defaults. Common sense tells us how people behave when they perceive that authority has broken down.
The questions are therefore: Why were there no attempts to keep the ship afloat after changing captains? Why did everything come to a standstill in the middle of the storm? Why did the PPM revoke my previous decisions to rid the Trust of the financial manager and continue building in order to launch 100 days of investigations?
A recent editorial of the Net News stresses the importance of affordable housing to our community. Believe you me, the UDP knew the importance, one reason why the UDP acted when others pondered and are still pondering how to build houses that the working poor can afford.
When the Auditor General says people making $2,000 and below should have been the only persons that qualified for these houses, he did not know and would not have been told that we had changed this criterion because it was too restrictive. It did not, for example, take into account the number of children in a family. All the talk by some members of the country about me creating slums also provoked me to want a different social, educational and economic mixture in our affordable communities.
The point for the concerned public to know is that these houses were not public houses in the typical sense. The government gave no cash subsidy under the UDP leadership; therefore what we were operating was not the same as in Canada and the UK. The Affordable Housing Initiative was government intervention in the private housing market. It was not government giving away houses to people in need. At least this was the case under the UDP leadership. It was about making ownership affordable, not making ownership free. Then why apply the same standards of distribution to our scheme as are applied to public housing schemes in Canada where government, not the customer, is paying.
The National Housing and Community Development Trust acted like many private companies that built and sold homes. Our first principle was to assist those in need that could afford homes, not those that were in need. The UDP prayed, of course, that one day we would live in a society that could assist those with the greatest need first, but we were realistic enough to know that day was far away. Perhaps helping those with the greatest need should now be the solid aim of the PPM government as it is of the editor of the Net News. And in his next moralising editorial, the editor of the Net News should tell us how much more taxes the PPM will need to collect to pay for this socialist principle.
I can’t write all I would like to mention but I thank the Compass for reporting facts because the facts have been my great protector during these last 100 days. Those, including the Auditor General, that continue to add their own personal and socialist interpretations to facts about housing, must remember that people can still choose governments and there might not always be a PPM government in power. Nor will there ever be just the Net News. It’s a good thing too, because how would we ever again have free elections if all editors thought more about the financial survival of their news organisation than the survival of our democratic tradition.
Dr. Frank McField