Adding three new members to the Cayman Islands’ governing body by next year is simply going to be too costly, North Side Member of the Legislative Assembly Ezzard Miller has said.
“We can’t implement three additional members of parliament at this time,” Mr. Miller said during a budget debate panel hosted by the nonprofit group Generation Now.
Mr. Miller estimated that it would cost a bit less than $500,000 in salaries and benefits for the three new assembly members. However, he opined that it would cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $10 million for two new ministries created under the Constitution.
“We need to make a decision that we can defer the additional three members of parliament now,” Mr. Miller said.
It was unclear if that was even possible at this stage. The 2009 Constitution Order approved by voters more than three years ago increases the number of MLA seats from the existing 15 to 18. Of the 18 legislators, the ruling government would have to assign seven of them as ministers of government, two more than the current five ministers.
Precisely what voting system would be used in next year’s general elections has been the subject of considerable debate and a public referendum last month.
The referendum seeking to implement a single-member voting district system in the Cayman Islands was defeated 18 July. Although some 65 per cent of those who participated in the referendum said “yes” to the “one man, one vote” concept, the referendum did not receive the required number of votes to be considered legally binding on government.
The report of the 2010 Electoral Boundary Commission made several recommendations on how to introduce the additional MLA seats. The one government intends to go with would place two additional elected seats in the District of George Town and one in the District of Bodden Town.
However, that boundary commission report has not yet been formally accepted by the Legislative Assembly as required and at least one member of the LA – Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush – has questioned whether the territory’s largest voting district has too much representation within the assembly.
The premier’s comments also created speculation among opposition party members and the local media that Mr. Bush was seeking to disregard recommendations of the Electoral Boundary Commission and put an additional elected representative post in West Bay – his home district in Grand Cayman.
In earlier statements made to the Caymanian Compass, Mr. Bush said no such thing. Rather, he noted his concern is not that West Bay may have too few seats, but that George Town may have too many.
“It was Ezzard Miller and Arden McLean who said that George Town should not get six seats, as have many, many other people who have said the same thing to me,” Mr. Bush said. “Giving six seats to one district does concern me, too. Six members is one-third of the house and one-third of the entire membership is far too much power vested in one district.
“It must be considered beyond how many voters [are] in that particular district,” he said.
Opposition members have said the premier intends to add a fifth seat in West Bay, taking one away from George Town. According to January estimates, West Bay has some 250 more voters than Bodden Town. Bodden Town is also Grand Cayman’s fastest-growing district.
Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin, who is a representative from the District of George Town, has said that in no case should any electoral seats be taken away from George Town.
“What cannot be justified is giving West Bay, which by the next elections will have [fewer] voters than Bodden Town, five seats and that West Bay should have the same number of seats as George Town,” he said.
According to January estimates, George Town has around 5,900 registered voters while West Bay has about 3,700.