No clear rules exist
The issue of whether Cayman Islands civil servants can sign petitions being circulated on the proposed North Sound dredging and the East End port is no clearer following a review by the country’s Constitutional Commission.
Commission members advised civil service association leaders to meet with managers on the matter to see if acceptable policies can be drawn up. Any such policy changes would have to be agreed by Cabinet members and the Legislative Assembly.
The commission said it was not currently clear whether the rules prohibit or allow the signing of petitions by government workers.
“The Personnel Regulations….[do] not provide any details relevant to defining political activity which may be permitted or restricted…” the commission stated in an eight-page opinion made public Friday. “Nor does it seem that there are any current written policies offering clear directions on a public servant’s limitations on participating in political activities.”
According to the Public Service Management Law governing civil servants’ conduct, government workers are to remain politically neutral and carry out to the best of their abilities the instructions of the ruling party of the day. Failure to comply with the code of conduct in a “significant way” can be grounds for dismissal from the government service.
However, Cayman’s Bill of Rights, contained in the 2009 Constitution Order, guarantees freedom of expression for residents within certain limits. One of those limits allows “the imposition of restrictions on public officers in the interests of the proper performance of their functions”.
There are further restrictions that specifically prevent civil servants from signing petitions that were written under previous government General Orders. In addition, former Chief Secretary George McCarthy issued a directive in 2008 prohibiting civil servants from attending public demonstrations or events “that can be construed as objecting to any actions or proposals of the government of the Islands or any other government”.
It is unclear how these various orders and directives jibe with the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
In the end, the Constitutional Commission members said disputes over petition-signing would likely have to be settled by a court at present.
“Any opinions expressed [by the commission] are merely to advise, educate and provide a basis for further discussion on the issues examined,” the opinion said. “If a legal ruling is required, that becomes a matter to be determined by the courts and beyond the remit of this commission.”
According to the commission, the United Kingdom restricts political activities by civil servants, including holding political office, speaking publicly on matters of “national political controversy” or expressing those views in the press, or performing electoral canvassing on behalf of the candidates.
The UK differentiates between various jobs held by government workers in terms of how much freedom of expression they are given.
“Civil servants in the industrial and non-office grades are known as the ‘politically free’ category and have the freedom to take part in all political activities,” the commission review stated. “There is discretion to permit other staff to take part in local or national political activities.”
The Scottish Parliament advised the commission that anyone, including civil servants, can present and sign a petition.
Canada provides a “self-assessment tool” for government workers to assist them in determining whether they should participate in certain activities that could be deemed political.
Rules for civil servants participating in political activities in the UK’s other overseas territories were not made clear to the commission. In most cases, no response was received to commission queries on the subject.