Update: 6am: According to a Facebook post last evening, the protest group Caymanians and Expats United Against Taxation have moved the gathering to George Town. The statement reads: “Due to the rising number of distractions
from the issue at hand and the disturbing number of personal attacks on
myself and others in this group, as well as the rising number of civil
servants emailing me to say they are being threatened if they attend, as
well as the very real risk of intimidation and violence if we go to
West Bay, we must put safety first and move our meeting to George Town,
outside the Courts & Legislative Assembly, Monday 6th August from 515pm.”
Postponing and moving a planned meeting about the proposed expat tax to West Bay won’t deter protestors from attending the rescheduled gathering, demonstration organisers said Monday night.
The protest group, called Caymanians and Expats United Against Taxation, said they plan to turn out in even bigger numbers than would have been at Monday night’s meeting, which Premier McKeeva Bush postponed about 90 minutes before it was due to start.
Mr. Bush issued a statement to media outlets postponing the meeting, citing “disquiet” and “ill-temper abroad that suggests we would not get the calm and reassured discussion that these issues require”.
“There is too much influence being exercised on people’s minds, by those who mean the country no good. Hopefully the disquiet they have generated will lessen enough that in a couple of days we can have a proper public reception and discussion of what we have to say,” the premier said in his statement.
He announced he was moving the meeting from the original venue of Mary Miller Hall in Red Bay to the John A. Cumber school hall in West Bay and rescheduled it for Wednesday night, 1 August.
Nick Pitman, who set up the more than 10,0000-member anti-taxation group on social network site Facebook, said he had expected between 200 and 400 people at Monday’s meeting, adding: “We’ll be there in bigger numbers on Wednesday night.”
“We’ll be there on Wednesday – extremely peaceful. There’ll be no violence, no intimidation, no aggression from us,” he said.
Last week, the premier called the informational meeting for those who wanted to know more about the taxation plans. The Facebook group then announced plans to hold a peaceful demonstration before the start of that meeting.
Mr. Pitman alerted members of the group via Facebook and social media as soon as he heard the meeting was postponed. Nonetheless, about 50 people who had not heard about the short notice postponement showed up outside the Red Bay venue.
“I find it quite upsetting but not surprising that Mr. Bush has chosen to take the opinion that we were going to be causing trouble and we were going to be causing intimidation, which is not true at all. We’re here for a peaceful protest.
“We’re a mix of Caymanians and expats who have joined together, united against this tax, facing discrimination. That’s what this issue is… By postponing this meeting, it’s just going to get bigger. It gives us two more days to discuss, two more days to prepare and we’ll be there on Wednesday, peacefully, with no shouting, no aggression. I think if anyone is going to be shouting and be aggressive, we can rely on the premier for that and his people,” Mr. Pitman said.
Police had already been stationed at and around Mary Miller Hall when Mr. Bush announced the change of plan at 5.55pm.
The last-minute postponement caught both protestors and police by surprise.
Commissioner of Police David Baines, who was at the venue with several of his officers, said he had heard the meeting was cancelled about 5.45pm.
Police remained on the site even after news spread that the meeting was not going ahead.
“Because the Facebook webpage invited people to come down here and gather, we’re still expecting a number who’ve not got the cancellation to be here. We’ll be trying to ensure they get the right information,” said Commissioner Baines. He said police had been in position for crowd control measures at the “high tension issue” meeting.
“What was fairly clear is this is a really hot topic. I’m not suggesting a hot topic to the level of violence, but where heated debate has the potential to go over,” he said. “The guarantee from us is we would have sufficient officers to intervene, to apply the law and ensure that the public meeting and the right to fair speech [went ahead] and that anyone who sought to disrupt it would have been removed and anyone who actually used threatening or abusive words or behaviour during the course of the meeting would be removed and arrested, regardless of whichever group they were from,” Mr. Baines said.
Members of the protest group said they had planned to hold a peaceful demonstration and had no intention of acting aggressively or violently.
They criticised Mr. Bush for moving the meeting from the “neutral” meeting place at Red Bay to the premier’s “home turf” in West Bay.
Group member Chaz Hill said Premier Bush had no reason to cancel the meeting. “This is a group of concerned citizens and they just want their voices heard.”
“This is more of war of words than anything. There’s no reason for violence at this point and there should never be,” he said. Caymanians and Expats United Against Taxation say the government has other options to raise revenue and cut expenditure to help Cayman balance its budget rather than introduce a new tax. Mr. Pitman said several solutions had been suggested by members of the group over the past week, since Mr. Bush announced plans to impose a 10 per cent payroll tax on expatiates who earn more than $20,000 a year.
“Expats pay back with work permit fees, which are very high compared to other Caribbean nations, voluntary service in the community… We’re not against tax, it’s just a discriminatory tax we’re against.”
Among the suggestions the group have made on how Cayman can save and raise money, Mr. Pitman said, was “cut spending, chase up the debt from the Ritz, cut the port, cut luxury spending of MLAs… There’s thousands of young people and old people, Caymanian and expat united against this. Mr. Bush made a big mistake with rollover and he’s making a huge mistake with this. We love Cayman and we’re speaking out against this, and Facebook was our way of being heard because we can’t be heard on Radio Cayman, we can’t be heard through the various outlets that Mr. Bush has control over.”
He said the group had heard of several people who were not going ahead with the sale of their house or who said they would not now come to Cayman because of the proposed tax.
Mr. Pitman added that a number of Jamaicans, Filipinos and Caymanians had also told him that they would not be able to attend the meeting because they were afraid of being fired. “I had several people email me today saying they were threatened that if they were coming here, they would lose their jobs,” he said, adding that some were civil servants.
“We’re not going to be intimidated. We’re about peace, we’re about prosperity and we’ll see what happens on Wednesday night, but you’ll see, we’re a nice bunch of people and we care about Cayman,” he said.