Government: Human rights changes will cost $12M

The Cayman Islands government will have to spend roughly $12 million on construction projects, plus another $1 million each year to comply with human rights requirements under the 2009 Constitution, according to Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks.

Most of the large expense items are related to the prison system. Cayman’s Bill of Rights, adopted for the first time in the 2009 Constitution, requires certain provisions for the treatment of prisoners and the handling of juvenile prisoners to be established by November 2013.

“We have just under three years to comply with segregation of juvenile prisoners from adult prisoners and convicted prisoners from remand prisoners,” said Mr. Ebanks last week. “These will involve a degree of capital expenditure for infrastructure.”

Mr. Ebanks said the cost of building a separate prison unit for remand prisoners – those who have not been convicted of any crime – has been estimated at $5.5 million for a 50-person facility. The cost of a youth offender facility has been estimated at $6.3 million. The deputy governor expected that would be spread out over the next three years’ budgets, with the lion’s share coming next year in the 2011/12 spending plan.

“It should be noted that these costs do not include those related to staffing,” he said. “[This] causes further implications as the necessary staff are considered specialist staff that would be filling newly created positions.”

The construction and staffing is just one area – likely the most expensive – in which Cayman still must prepare for the full implementation of the Bill of Rights. Aside from the specific provisions related to prison inmates, the remainder of the bill will take effect in November 2012.

“There is an enormous amount of work to be done…if we are to be compliant with the Bill of Rights by the time it comes into force on 6 November, 2012,” said Human Rights Commission Chairman Richard Coles in a report to the Legislative Assembly made public last week.

According to Mr. Ebanks, some of that work will include the rewriting of many local laws to make them compliant with the bill.

The Human Rights Commission has stated that it has no idea how many local laws will have to be changed, and that the attorney general’s office is reviewing the matter. Thus far, the committee has reviewed nine laws and recommended changes.

In addition to the legal revisions, both Cabinet and the Legislative Assembly will have to review their operating guidelines and standing orders to ensure compliance. Laws that set down how voter-initiated referenda are to be held, as well as those giving effect to newly drawn electoral boundaries, will also have to be created, Mr. Ebanks said.

Training Cayman Islands civil servants to handle new job requirements as a result of the Bill of Rights will also be no small task, the deputy governor said.

“The impact of section 19 [of the Constitution] on the way government carries on its business is very significant,” Mr. Ebanks noted. “It states: ‘All decisions and acts of public officials must be lawful, rational, proportionate and procedurally fair. Every person whose interests have been adversely affected by such a decision or act has the right to request and be given written reasons for that decision or act.’”

The requirement that decisions and actions of public officials must be rational and proportionate will be “more difficult to deal with” than changing the country’s laws, he said.

Extensive training for civil servants to help meet those requirements as well as a comprehensive review of government policies is planned within the next 24 months.

“In short, there are significant challenges ahead for the public service,” Mr. Ebanks said.

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