Sister Islands: one district or two?

‘Do you prefer being one electoral district or two?’ That is the question being asked of voters in the Sister Islands, Constitutional Review Director Suzanne Bothwell told about 40 people at the Aston Rutty Civic Centre on Friday night.

The initiative to modernise Cayman’s Constitution includes a proposal for one person one vote, she explained. At present, the islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman form one electoral district represented by two elected Members of the Legislative Assembly. Voters in a general election may vote for two of the candidates on the ballot.

If the Sister Islands remain one electoral district with one vote per voter, the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes would be elected.

If they are divided into two electoral districts, candidates would stand for election in one or the other district. The top vote-getter in each would be the MLA, so the Sister Islands together would still have two MLAs.

Mr. Raymond Scott said he wanted to see voting stay the way it has been. ‘Everybody is used to this and we want it to remain.’

Mr. Percy Whorms made it clear he did not like either idea. ‘I’m being robbed of 50 per cent of my rights to elect the two I want,’ he said.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said the purpose of the meeting was to hear what people think. He pointed out voters in North Side and East End have one vote, while people in George Town are used to voting for four candidates and some still want to cast four votes. But a level playing field means each person will vote for only one person.

The proposal is not cast in stone, Mr. Tibbetts assured.

Mrs. Bothwell emphasised the idea of equality among all voters.

MLA Moses Kirkconnell said it sounded as if the choice was either/or. But the Sister Islands are 60 – 80 miles from Grand Cayman; they have similar problems. He said he thought people wanted to stay one electoral district.

‘If people feel they want to continue the way they are today, is that an option?’ Mr. Kirkconnell asked.

Mr. Tibbetts said anything was an option at this time. ‘We understand how people feel. We need to create a balance. We don’t want to enshrine something in the Constitution the Sister Islands don’t want,’ he said.

Mr. Kirkconnell said the Sister Islands have been fortunate in the representation they have had in cabinet. ‘That has to be part of our approach,’ he said.

Mrs. Bothwell said if the Cayman Islands is going to change the type of electoral system in effect at present ‘there has to be consistency across the board. If as a majority we decide to move forward to one man, one vote how do you want to fit in the picture? How do you see yourselves fitting in?’

According to a proposal put forward in 2002, when plans were made to divide the six electoral districts into 17 constituencies, Cayman Brac East would form one electoral district; Cayman Brac West and Little Cayman would form another electoral district.

All persons present were encouraged to discuss the issue in the community. The next meeting for the Constitutional Modernisation Initiative in Cayman Brac is Tuesday, 1 April. Little Cayman’s meeting is Wednesday, 2 April.

Attendance on Friday night may have been affected by the number of people working at the Agricultural Grounds to prepare for the agricultural show the next day.

All areas of the constitution were discussed by Mrs. Bothwell in her opening presentation. Mr. Tibbetts and Education minister Alden McLaughlin occasionally added their thoughts.

Human rights and the qualifications to stand for election were other topics on which members of the audience showed strong feelings.

Mr. Scott asked about aid to Cuban refugees. Under international maritime law, all coastal states have the responsibility to assist anyone in need on the high seas, he said. But he had been told that a memorandum of understanding is in place that says people are not to assist Cubans in any fashion, not even by giving them food or water.

‘I see it differently,’ Mr. Scott said. ‘If they are in need of food or water, we should give it…. What can be done?’

Mr. Tibbetts said he supported that position as an individual. But the official position is that it is a matter for the Immigration Department. The Immigration Department falls under the Chief Secretary and under the Governor.

Several efforts have been made to renegotiate the memorandum through the British Embassy in Cuba, Mr. Tibbetts noted.

Mr. McLaughlin said qualifications for voting and standing for election had been the most difficult to deal with. The feedback from meetings so far has been a preference for sticking with a simplified version of the present rule so that only second generation Caymanians can stand for election.

Mr. Walton Gooding introduced himself as a new Caymanian, having come here from Barbados in 1974. He said he has a child who was born in Cayman when he was not yet a Caymanian, so the child will be a first generation Caymanian. ‘If you put in the Constitution that he can’t run and give back to the only country he knows – and is put in by his peers – I think you’re making a mistake.’

Mrs. Bothwell said the question of nation-building needed to be considered for its impact over the next 40 to 50 years. ‘We need to hear from a lot of people – indigenous, second generation, and new Caymanians.’

Mr. Conroy Ebanks raised several questions and asked Mr Tibbetts about his title. Mr. Tibbetts said he personally did not care, but ‘Leader of Government Business’ sounded strange in meetings with colleagues regionally or internationally. Other Overseas Territories have a premier or chief minister, he said.

People in the audience included Cabinet Secretary Orrett Connor, George Town MLA Lucille Seymour and Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden.