Today’s Editorial March 30: Tobacco Bill needs clarity

During the Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon concerning the proposed Tobacco Bill on Wednesday, private sector attorney Murali Ram pointed out a number of what must be considered flaws in the draft legislation.

There are often many flaws in new bills, and the Tobacco Bill was only put out as a white paper for public consultation, so it is not too alarming that Mr. Ram was able to find a number of drafting problems.

However, what is troubling is that many sections of the law refer to elements prescribed by regulations that have not yet been released. Nor has the Ministry of Health given the public any idea what the regulations might likely contain.

Since many of the finer points of the bill are dealt with by currently unannounced regulations, it becomes very difficult for the public and particularly business owners to decide if they like this legislation or not. The bigger question then becomes what is the point of a public consultation if the public isn’t being given enough information to make meaningful and decisive comments.

It doesn’t seem to make sense to ask the public to comment on legislation that will enable unknown regulations.

There are many laws that get a lot of their substance from regulations. However, the Tobacco Bill is new and controversial, and could have effects on tourism or Cayman’s broader economy. Given the importance of making sure all aspects of the Tobacco Bill are in the best interests of the Cayman Islands, it would have seemed proper for the draft regulations to be released with the white paper bill.

But such was not the case and as a result we’ll have a 60-day consultation period that asks the public to basically shoot in the dark.

This isn’t the first time such things have happened. Just last year the public was asked to comment on the Immigration Bill (2006) amendments before knowing what the government had in mind with regard to regulations pertaining to the permanent residence point system.

Although we can understand why the Government would like to maintain control over certain workings of laws through policy decisions rather than legislation, it seems less than transparent to delay announcing regulations until after a public consultation period is over.

Especially when it comes to something as fundamentally changing to society as the Tobacco Bill, we would hope that in the future the government announces its full intentions with regard to proposed legislation before any public consultation process commences.

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