The Cayman Islands public sector is a powerful political force.
Lest anyone doubt this, consider the following: There are somewhere between 5,700 and 6,000 individuals employed in the government service, whether in central government or by statutory authorities or government companies.
If we take the most recent government human resources report (from June 2010) nearly 4,300 of those workers are Caymanian. That 4,300 figure represents roughly 28 per cent of the total eligible voting population within these Islands.
The civil servants – whether they would wish to think of it this way or not – are the single most powerful voting bloc there is in this country. If the civil service is generally against a politician, there will be a large and willing group of voters who will assist in leading to that elected official’s political demise.
So, the civil service is a powerful group indeed.
But does that mean they should all be prevented from signing petitions? That they should be kept from exercising the right to petition their elected government, which in most democracies is considered among the most guarded and sacred civil liberties?
We admit there could be a major problem if a chief officer of a government ministry or portfolio signed a petition opposing a project that their elected minister wished to proceed with. Obviously, there is a conflict in that situation.
However, why would a police officer or a social worker who has no direct involvement in the project be prevented from signing a petition?
Rules are rules and if the government eventually decides civil servants should not sign any petitions, that should be stated clearly – and the recent review by the Constitutional Commission has found it is not.
But we would ask our elected leaders and appointed governor to consider this question carefully before simply squelching the rights of individuals to express their views. We believe the government should err on the side of participatory democracy in any case. Some high-ranking civil servants may not be able to sign petitions, but there seems to be little reason that others cannot do so.