Ex-deputy governor signs up, MLA questions ‘fairness’
A decidedly non-political former Cayman Islands civil service manager made a public show of signing his support for the “one man, one vote” petition circulating the Islands.
Retired Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks added his name Tuesday to the growing list of petitioners seeking to change how the country elects its Legislative Assembly representatives. Organisers estimate they have collected the signatures of some 3,000 registered voters in support of a November referendum on the issue.
The petition seeks to switch Cayman’s current multi-member voting districts to single-member constituencies, which means the current voting districts would change from six to 18 becoming much smaller and allowing electors only one ballot apiece. Under the current system, George Town and West Bay voters can cast four ballots, Bodden Towners three, voters on the Sister Islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman two and East Enders and North Siders one.
“On the surface, I thought [single-member constituencies] made sense,” Mr. Ebanks said. “However, we achieve a situation where an individual can elect … a single representative is all I’m interested in.”
Former chief fire officer Kirkland Nixon also joined Mr. Ebanks in supporting the petition.
Although both men are no longer working for the government, both wished civil servants to know that new rules issued by Deputy Governor Franz Manderson’s office do allow current civil servants to sign certain political petitions.
Mr. Ebanks said he had no particular evidence that civil servants weren’t participating in the referendum, but he said government workers long went without guidance on whether or not they could participate in petition signing.
Mr. Nixon said he felt the single-member constituencies would help “bring government home” to people in the districts, if it was enacted.
“I live in Spotts Newlands,” he said. “I’m in an unusual position in that I have property on both sides of the road or in both districts. I’ve never had a visit from anybody in government.”
The large majority of Cayman Islands government workers would not be prevented from signing political petitions addressed to the governor, Cabinet members or other public officials under new guidelines released in February by the deputy governor’s office.
The policy breaks petitions into two classes.
Class 1 petitions are those addressed to any public official seeking to change or amend any action or proposed action by a government ministry or portfolio. These can include any matters for which a minister or senior civil servant within a portfolio has direct responsibility.
Class 2 petitions are efforts by the public to generate a voter-initiated referendum, which must be addressed to Cabinet members. Class 2 petitions are also any petitions sent to the governor concerning matters directly within his constitutional responsibility.
The policy only applies to petitions presented to the governor, Cabinet or other public official. Petitions involving social, civic, community or professional matters are not covered.
Public servants are generally allowed to sign both class 1 and class 2 petitions, with certain caveats.
For instance, a public servant who holds what is considered a “key position” or a sensitive position to the public official being petitioned is not allowed to sign a class 1 petition. Key positions include chief officers, deputy chief officers, policy advisers, agency heads or deputy heads, clerk of the Legislative Assembly or clerk of the Cabinet.
Sensitive positions are defined as those who provide legal or financial advice, public communications, or physical development services to a ministry or portfolio. Class 2 petitions can be signed as long as senior civil servants doing the signing meet “notification” requirements addressed in the policy. “Notification” requirements are also included in guidelines for signing class 1 petitions.
“Relevant to the signing of a class 1 petition, any public servant who holds a key position, but does not have direct responsibility for the subject matter of the petition must, at least 48 hours prior to doing so, inform the public officials whom his or her position supports, through his chief officer, of his intention to sign a class 1 petition,” the policy states. “Relevant to the signing of a class 2 petition, any public servant who holds a key position must, at least 48 hours prior to doing so, inform the public official whom his or her position supports, through his chief officer, of his or her intention to sign a class 2 petition.”
The question of whether Cayman is too small to split into 18 single-member districts was raised last month during a public debate on the issue of the Cayman Islands’ voting system.
The single-member constituent system would divide Grand Cayman into 16 voting districts, each of which would send one representative to the Legislative Assembly. The number of voters in each single-member district would be much smaller than the current districts. Cayman Brac and Little Cayman would get two representatives.
In West Bay – where there are about 3,500 voters, four separate districts – one for each representative would mean putting roughly 875 voters per single-member district.
West Bay MLA Cline Glidden Jr. told those who attended the Generation Now debate forum last month that the small size could lead to relatively minute numbers of electors deciding who gets to represent the country.
“If we now have four constituencies … and we decide that somewhere around 600 or 700 people in that constituency and I have five people running in that district,” Glidden said. “Theoretically, you could get elected by 125 to 150 votes. I’m not sure that the Cayman people have decided that’s more democratic for them.”
The problem with that analysis, North Side Member of the Legislative Assembly Ezzard Miller said, is that there are already two single-member voting districts in Grand Cayman, each with fewer voters than the single-member districts in West Bay would present if the system were to be changed.
“I don’t understand how Cayman can be too small for single-member constituency,” Miller said. “There is no democracy on Earth that I am aware of where you have six constituencies and five different levels of voting; five unequal choices.”
Equality has frequently been argued by “one man, one vote” supporters, who believe there is no reason someone who lives in George Town should get four votes, when people in North Side or East End get just one. “The equality aspect is the insurmountable challenge with the multi-member districts,” says Opposition party leader Alden McLaughlin.
However, Mr. Glidden also questioned during the Generation Now debate whether equality would be maintained by single-member districts.
In West Bay, where each district would have roughly 875 voters, electors’ votes would not count as much as in East End or North Side district – each of which has fewer than 600 voters now – Mr. Glidden said.
“If it’s important to democracy, then we need to have it across the board,” Mr. Glidden said.