Visa argument set forth

This letter is in reference to your Freedom of Press? editorial, which was in the Friday edition of the Caymanian Compass.

A visa regime is a border control mechanism by which a country ‘remotely’ screens persons wishing to enter its borders without the individual having to physically present themselves at a border control point. Border control systems are fundamental to any country’s national security in that they mitigate against the transit of risks across borders whether in the form of persons, materials or otherwise.

Advance notice to the introduction of new or enhanced border control measures provides a logical and strong incentive for persons who feel threatened by these measures to seek to avoid them by hastening the movement of themselves or whatever else they wish to move across the country’s border before the implementation of the new systems. It is for this reason that countries do not normally give advance publicity to the introduction of new or enhanced border control measures.

As examples of this practice, it is worth noting that when the United Kingdom introduced visa requirements for Jamaican nationals in January 2003, the announcement was made with immediate effect, coming into effect at midnight on the day it was announced. And when Bermuda followed suit within a few weeks, the Bermudian government followed a similar approach of bringing the measures into immediate effect. It should be clear from this and what I have stated above that for the Cayman Islands government to have given advance publicity to its intentions to add four countries to those whose nationals require visas would have been both counterproductive and unorthodox.

It was against this background that, at our press briefing on Wednesday I expressed my disappointment with your publication having run the front page story that it did back on 11 October 2005. That disappointment was exacerbated by the fact that your reporter chose not to contact me (or anyone else to my knowledge within the government) prior to printing that story but saw it as fit and timely to call me the following morning and ask me to provide her with the details of how the new visa system would work!

I would prefer to believe that your reporter, and unfortunately your editorial now requires me to include you, simply lack the appreciation of the subject matter that you were dealing with. I surely do not want to assume that with such a long and recently-celebrated history of publishing in these islands, that you felt it more important to serve the interests of those who would seek to take advantage of such information by attempting to enter the Cayman Islands before these new requirements were introduced rather than the interests of the broader community whom we seek to protect.

As was pointed out at the press briefing, your publicizing of this matter did have the effect that we and in particular our immigration authorities would have expected. There was a marked increase in the number of persons arriving at our airport who were not suitable for admission into the Cayman Islands as visitors. From 12 October through to 26 October when we made the announcement of the new requirements, our immigration officials refused entry to over 80 persons from Jamaica alone.

Madame Editor, I fully appreciate the invaluable role that your paper and all other media outlets play in our community. And I would never suggest that you should need to clear everything that you print with the government. What I would expect, however, is that you would exercise sensitivity to information that you garner and discretion in how you disseminate it. I would hope, for example, that if you obtained information that suggested our RCIP officers were planning an operation in a particular area in search for firearms that you would not feel it your duty to publish such information without contacting us simply because an element of the community would be interested in knowing it. And I would also hope that as our immigration authorities now seek to crack down on the high number of overstayers in these islands that we do not need to exercise particular care to ensure that you and your staff do not become aware of any covert operations they may see fit to mount because you would also feel it your right and duty to publicise these!

It is worth noting that while other government officials as well as I were contacted over the past few weeks by various reporters from other media houses on island, none of those houses chose to report on the matter until the government had stated its position. I am sure that this was due to their appreciation of the sensitivity of the matter and I commend them for their responsible judgment.

I appreciate that it is natural instinct to try to find solid ground from which to defend oneself and note that you referenced your remarks to freedom of information legislation. As a long-time advocate of such legislation myself, I am pleased to say that the government is fully committed implementing similar legislation. And I would have thought that you would have been cognizant of the regular access that Ministers of this government have afforded the media.

Having said that, Madame Editor, I know of no jurisdiction which has freedom of information legislation and which legislation has given the public the right to access information on law enforcement and national security matters. I would be most grateful if you would point out to your readers and me which jurisdiction has such legislation WITHOUT the exemption of law enforcement and national security matters.

Finally, you stated clearly in your editorials of both Tuesday, 25 October, and Friday 28 October, how you learned of the story regarding our plans to add these countries. It is clearly your privilege to give whatever credence you wish to whatever information you choose. However, once the government has stated an official position on a matter, it is your duty Madame Editor if you choose to report it to do so correctly – regardless of what your other sources may tell you.

However, judging by the error in your front page story of Thursday, 27 October, in relation to the government’s announcement at our press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, it now appears that your reporter is still relying on those other sources. In spite of her NOT being told verbally at the briefing of any exemption being afforded to holders of Canadian, UK or US visitors’ visas, and in spite of our press release, which she was handed stating otherwise, she chose to erroneously report that holders of these visitors visas WOULD be exempted from the new requirements.

I had hoped to see this corrected in Friday’s paper since I brought it to your reporter’s attention earlier on Thursday than our press conference had been held on Wednesday. My logic was that if our press briefing on Wednesday could make the front page of your paper on Thursday, then an error brought to your reporter’s attention at an earlier time on Thursday could make Friday’s edition.

However, in light of the tone of your editorial of Friday titled Freedom of the Press?, I clearly appreciate why it would have been rather difficult to run a correction of this error on Friday after you had put so much effort into writing your editorial. Would you please ensure, however, that the error is corrected as visa regimes are normally introduced – with immediate effect!

Donovan Ebanks,Deputy Chief Secretary

Comments are closed.