North Side MLA: 18 legislators too expensive

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. 

Ezzard Miller

Mr Miller
File

20 COMMENTS

  1. Of course it makes perfect sense for a Premier from West Bay to want that district to have more MLAs and thus strengthen his power base.

    I’m sure if we ever had a Premier from Nothside they would want as many MLAs as Georgetown.

    However: Georgetown has 5,900 voters compared to 3,700 in West Bay. There can be grounds for 50% more MLAs from Georgetown than West Bay, but not for taking a seat from Georgetown and giving it to West Bay.

    Compared to other countries, the Cayman Islands already has far too many politicians.

    The UK has 648 MPs for a population of 62 million = appox. 1 MP per 10,000 people

    France has 577 members of National Assembly for a population of 65 million = approx. 1 member per 11,000 people

    Jamaica has 63 MPs for a population of 2.7 million = 1 MP per 43,000 people

    Why do the Cayman Islands need more than 6 MLAs?

  2. Longtermresident,
    I agree with your point but in fact if you do the math both the UK and France have 1 Parliamentary representative for each 100,000 people and each UK and France representative takes home less of their electors money than ours do. My suggestion is that we pay our representatives the same amount per elector as they do in the UK and France – something less than 1 per elector per year. That way we might get legislators that are interested in the people rather than the cash.

  3. @longtimeresident – we agree on the first half of your post. However, it is not reasonable to compare the number of MLAs per capita in Cayman to the number of MPs per capita in countries with millions and tens of millions of people for three reasons: (1) there are obviously economies of scale at work (2) there will be support staff behind those MPs. In the UK it is typical for an MP to have three full time staff (paid from the public purse) and an unpaid intern, and (3) some of those countries have national government, regional government and local government. In the UK for example, there is also a Welsh Assembly and a Scottish Parliament as well as county councils and district councils. The Legislative Assembly performs all of these roles.

    It is plainly ridiculous to suggest that Cayman should have only 6 MLAs. Currently there are 5 Ministers in charge of 5 very large portfolios. The matters they need to address are complex. It is not feasible to reduce that number although I am fully in support of deferring any increase. Clearly, we could not have an Opposition of one MLA.

    Appropriate comparisons can be made to countries or territories with similar economies and populations. For example, Bermuda with a population of about 70,000 has 36 members in its House of Assembly and 11 senators.

    Finally, if power is concentrated into fewer hands we could only expect corruption to increase.

  4. I agree completely and consider it a no brainer to increase the LA by 20% is unnecessary and sends the wrong message about spending cut backs to the civil service.

  5. Absolutely agree with Mr Miller on this one. We continue to allow politicians to increase the size and cost of Government and then complain afterwards about the need to raise additional revenue.

    Also if the politicians would concentrate on policy instead of which private parking lot to pave they would have more than sufficient time to do their job. There is absolutely no need to have addditional Ministers.

    We need to stop this nonsense now. once the additional MLA’s are voted in to office it will be too late.
    Sheer madness.

  6. @ NJ2Cay:

    Precisely, and great observation… All of a sudden things are too expensive for Ezzard. But they weren’t too expensive for Mr. Miller during his OMOV power grab, when everyone else talked about the increase of costs OMOV would mean not only in terms of MLA’s but duplicate infrastructure and bureaucracy.

    Now, 3 more MLA’s are all of a sudden too expensive.

    This guy’s just a populist and would’nt know what’s good for the country of it hit him on the head with a shovel.. He’s about what ever sounds good, a feel good policy pushing vote begging.

  7. Of course it could also be observed that having 18 MLAs would substantially reduce the statistical probability that the group of three (or is it four now?) Independant candidates who expect to get elected or re-elected in 2013 could hold the balance of power in a close run contest.

    Or is that a bit too cynical?

  8. @JohnEvans – Always a conspiracy theory, eh John? I don’t follow your logic on this. The addition of three seats (2 in GT, 1 in BT) should not affect Ezzard’s and Arden’s re-election chances in NS and EE or their chances of holding the balance of power one bit since neither UDP nor PPM is likely to secure 10 seats in the House.

    @NJ2Cay – OMOV can be introduced with any number of MLAs, but I think the point is that we have only discovered in the last 3 weeks that govt. has a serious budget crisis and it behoves each of us to make suggestions as to how to solve it. That was a lot of guff about how single member constituencies would cause huge increases in costs in infrastructure etc..

  9. longtermresident – I did the math on one of your areas and 62,000,000 divided by 648 is 1MP per 95,600 people. Your calculation was 6.2mil divided by 648. Nevertheless, I think that just strengthens your argument though.

    I agree with you and Ezzard. What is the UK going to say next year when we do a budget with added MLAs when they just told us to cut back on expediture?

  10. Speaker, you clearly not only failed to understand what I was saying but do not appear to be able to do basic maths.

    It’s not a conspiracy theory nor is it anything to do with voting patterns, it’s simply percentages. The more MLAs you have the less likely it becomes for the election to result in a hung assembly and a minority group to hold the controlling vote.

    With more MLAs the Independants simply become slightly smaller fish in the LA ocean.

  11. @John Evans – The truth of your assertion than the more MLAs you have the less likely it becomes for the election to result in a hung assembly and a minority group to hold the controlling vote really depends on the number of electable candidates each party has to offer. Simply because there are 18 seats does not mean that either the UDP or the PPM will contest all of them, or even that all of the incumbents are electable. E.g. if the number of electable UDP candidates is less than the present number of UDP incumbents then obviously then increasing the number of seats to 18 will mean that they have less chance of securing a majority to form the next govt. It simply does not follow that an increase in the number of MLAs means that Independents automatically become smaller fish. I predict that you will see an increase in the number of independents being elected this election.

    Think about it (that is if you can entertain the possibility of being wrong).

    P.S. what would applying basic math have to do with cynicism?

  12. Speaker, Thanks for your answer, but I have to ask how in the world can you say that Caymans Budget Crisis was only discovered 3 weeks ago. Please help me to understand what you mean by thisI amy be wrong but thought these issues have been around for quite a while.

  13. @NJ2Cay – Up until recently we had been led by the government to believe that they had turned our finances around. Last year they claimed a 20m surplus. Last December they gave back the 3.2% paycut to civil servants seemingly having no need of it having declared that this would occur once the country’s finances were stabilised. There was no prior public discussion of any need to impose direct taxes but suddenly one day a 10% payroll tax was proposed. Didn’t you find that a bit of a shock, or were you aware that the govt. was misleading us all along?

  14. @ watersedge – 1 MP per per 95,600 people only shows the absurdity of the comparison. On that basis we should only have 1/2 of an MLA to run both the legislature and the government.

  15. @ speaker

    You said Bermuda had 36 people in the House of representatives. They have about 64,700 people on the island so that’s about 1,797 people per representative (generally speaking). Do you really think that 1,797 people is enough for 1 representative? If other people in other countries can manage over 10,000 people why can’t our representatives manage more than 3,100 (56,000/18) people? The representative should focus on the economy because the economy directly affects its citizens. They don’t have to tend to every single person face to face. They should be concerned with the economy of their geographic location.

    I think we only need 1 representative from each district and 1 premier. Why is there any need for more when we only have 56,700 people on the island? Then obviously, we need the proper internal controls to prevent corruption. We need to government to run efficiently. That is all I think Ezzard is saying.

  16. @watersedge – Have you actually read my posts? I have been at pains to point out the fallacy of determining how many representatives are required simply based on the population rather than the needs of the country. If nothing else did, the 1/2 MLA conclusion should have driven that point home.

    MLAs in Cayman have to be concerned about local issues to their district, domestic issues to the country as well as international issues which affect our country. I keep making the point that there are different levels of government (national, regional and local) in other countries that attend to these different needs. I gave the UK as an example. It is too simplistic and narrow to say they should only be concerned about the economy, and it is simply arbitrary to say that we need only one representative from each district (unless you mean single member constituencies where there are 15 or 18 MLAs). There are larger Caribbean island nations whose domestic and international affairs are far less complex than Cayman’s. No matter how many laws are in place and how many organs of government there are to combat corruption it is a simple fact of human experience that we can expect corruption to increase as power is concentrated into fewer hands. Less questions get asked.

    The point about Bermuda was not that that is where we should aim bur rather to say that we are not really at the extreme end when you compare apples with apples. But somehow you have managed to ignore all of these points in order to keep pushing an arbitrary number. Just to be clear: I am in favour of not increasing the number of seats at this time.

  17. Speaker:

    I understand where you are coming from now. I think you may have misunderstood me when I said that there should be only 1 representative from each district. What I meant was single member constituencies. But further, 1 speaker on behalf of the different constituencies of each of the districts. Then generally speaking, the premier is in charge of making sure these different districts are staying on course making changes as needed. The speakers would also bring insight (on behalf of all the constituencies) to different national issues like the budget. Does that make more sense?

    I mean, we have the advantage of being a very small island so why not have the elected members working together and speaking together to solve issues with the country. I don’t think there’s any reason that the elected member from East End couldn’t drive up to to GT for a meeting. Sadly, I don’t think this is how government works. I don’t think that everyone is working collectively as a team.

  18. Apologies for my own incorrect calculations.

    I somehow missed a 0.

    Both the UK and France do in fact have 100,000 people per elected representative.

    @Speaker
    No I’m not suggesting that 0.5 of an MLA is enough, merely that 18 seems excessive.

    2 for West Bay, 3 for Georgetown, 1 for Eastern districts (including Bodden Town) and 1 for sister islands should be enough.

    After all, this is a tiny country, the size of a small town in other countries.
    I constantly admire how a country of this size can have pretty much all the functions (except a military) of much larger countries.

  19. @longtermresident – If you are not suggesting that 0.5 MLAs are enough then comparisons with the UK and France are irrelevant. You have not made a case why 7 MLAs should be sufficient although I have explained a number of times why it would not be. You have not made appropriate comparisons to show why 18 (or 15) are excessive.

    Your suggested numbers are of course purely arbitrary. BT has roughly the same number of voters as WB yet you propose for WB to have 2 seats while BT should be combined with EE and NS into an Eastern District which has only one. You are ignoring the fact that GT has twice the number of voters as WB. It seems like a ploy to give WB disproportionate representation while eliminating the incumbents from NS and EE.

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