Independents get support in WB

Don’t call them ‘a party.’

But a group of four independent candidates has banded together in West Bay voting district seeking to unseat the United Democratic Party from its political stronghold in the Cayman Islands. The group held its first political meeting Saturday night.

‘Frankly, we’re running as a cost-effective measure,’ said West Bay candidate Woody DaCosta. ‘We simply do not have big money behind us. We’ve asked other candidates (in West Bay) to join us; they’ve opted not to.’

But Mr. DaCosta said overtures have been made to independent candidates in other voting districts. Among those contacted is former Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce President Eddie Thompson. No formal announcement has been made about any other independent candidates joining the group.

There’s no platform, and candidates are sometimes likely to disagree among themselves on basic issues.

‘Each one of us are independent persons…each one of us have independent platforms,’ Mr. DaCosta said.

But there are some aspects that unify the group, including a belief that it’s time to change the current political leadership in West Bay.

‘I’m tired of hearing we don’t have the power in this district,’ Independent candidate Lana Mae Smith said to a crowd of some 200-plus who sat on plastic chairs in an empty lot across the street from the West Bay Foster’s grocery store Saturday night. ‘Even when they were in power, they didn’t fix it then.’

‘We don’t need to ‘vote straight,’ we need to vote smart,’ said independent candidate Paul Rivers, playing on the words of one of the United Democratic Party’s slogans for the upcoming election.

Mr. DaCosta said one of the legislative items the independents from West Bay support is a cut in pay for elected representatives. Another party official suggested a 10-15 per cent cut in pay upon taking office as a symbolic gesture in tough economic times.

Generally, the independent candidates expressed concern that West Bay district has been overlooked in the past four years with the UDP no longer controlling the local government. The UDP was voted out following the May 2005 elections that ushered in the current People’s Progressive Movement ruling party.

Candidates said road repairs, a promised West Bay community centre and plans for a high school in West Bay have fallen by the wayside, despite promises from successive governments. The PPM government has proposed a new high school for the district but had to delay those plans due to budgetary concerns.

Independent candidate Reginald ‘Choppy’ Delapenha denied PPM officials’ claims about a lack of available funds.

‘Money has not been an issue over the last eight years with government, it is priorities,’ Mr. Delapenha told the crowd.

A developer by trade, Mr. Delapenha took the somewhat unusual stance of opposing the way UDP members had supported development along West Bay Road during their term in office.

‘Am I sad to see the Ritz-Carlton? No,’ Mr. Delapenha said. ‘But let’s look at what it has done for West Bay. Is it employing Caymanians?

‘No!’ crowd members shouted back.

Mr. Delapenha and other candidates at the rally suggested that Cayman’s recent rapid population growth was more than the island could handle and was affecting almost every aspect of life including crime, employment and the environment.

‘Our leaders should have been proactive, and the Cayman Islands should have been leading in the environmental protection,’ Mrs. Smith told the West Bay crowd. ‘Why are we running behind? It’s because our representatives were having a party, Styrofoam plates and all.’

‘Can you believe that the National Conservation Bill did not get passed?’ Mrs. Smith continued. ‘I will tell you why. The parties were too busy courting foreign investment and foreign developers.’

The influence of foreign developers and other special interests on politics was one that came up often during the two and a half hour rally.

‘Look around us, is this the same Cayman that we knew?’ Mr. Rivers asked the crowd. ‘Have you been any better in the last ten years, or the last eight years in particular? I’m sick of hearing about my people…being laid off. We have to protect our interests here. They haven’t protected anything…they gave it away.’

‘May the 20th is Judgement Day.’