With the US Presidential election having dominated much of the media coverage, our thoughts, business conversations and even the late night comedy shows recently, it can serve us in the Cayman Islands as a window through which to look at our own upcoming election in May 2013.
In the US, some political pundits have distilled the very close race to two issues symbolised by two different men – an appreciation for the pervasive social issues represented by Obama and an aggressive focus on the economic recovery represented by Romney. Some say the dividing line will be which of these two issues are deemed more important and more urgent by more voters.
Which brings us to the Cayman context – what will be the deciding factors in our election? Just like the United States, we have our fair share of economic challenges and social problems. They are both important and both urgently in need of effective solutions. How do we decide who to elect?
We have just over six months to clarify in our minds and as a country, what are the most important things we want from the next government. We need to look ahead and picture the type of Caymanian society we want to be living in 2017 and beyond, then set out our expectations of what the next government and leadership should look like to help create this vision of Cayman. Unless we are honest with ourselves, set realistic expectations and are prepared to work to achieve these goals, we will continue to get substandard to mediocre representation we have had in successive governments and quite likely, slide into the realms of a third world country that was once great like many of our regional neighbours.
How do we the people, the voters, ensure we get from here at the end of 2012 to where we want to be in 2017?
Let us start by being accountable and honest about our people, the state of the country and our leaders. The myriad of issues and challenges we face as a country have been created or facilitated by Caymanians and our own people have held the positions, the power and the decision making ability by their role on various Government appointed boards, top Civil Service positions and in particular, those elected to the Legislative Assembly. All who have served in these various roles had position, power and decision making abilities that could have been used to prevent, or at least address these problems. Yet, these same leaders over the past 12-15 years frequently chose political expedience, popularity and the bartering of business favours over doing the right thing for Caymanians. Sometimes, the wrong thing was done simply to satisfy someone’s ego and good people within the system failed to stand up for the right thing.
The 2013 election is our best opportunity to take definitive action and put our country back on the right course. Today, we must challenge ourselves and our leaders with an old Caymanian saying “If you KNOW better, DO better”.
How do we as a country DO better?
First, set goals. Be clear on what we want. Keep this simple but pragmatic. Let’s consider three areas where we need to have clear goals and the aspiring politicians will need to demonstrate their plans to implement viable solutions.
Area No. 1 – The Caymanian Economy
We should want a stronger economy where Caymanians are able to participate and benefit from this economic miracle without being made to feel like beggars in their own country. Markers of an improved economy will include a healthy and sustainable government budget, reduced taxes and fees, near zero unemployment of Caymanians, strong economic sectors such as financial services, tourism, commerce and development, a high confidence level in the jurisdiction that acts to stabilise the economy both from within and from those outside looking in. We should want a country where new business opportunities are available to ‘indigenous’ Caymanians and not just the “new” Caymanians who leverage an expatriate network to help themselves and their own friends and family at the direct exclusion of existing Caymanian businesses or aspiring entrepreneurs.
Area No. 2 – Employment (Education & Training)
In order for us to have Caymanians participating in a healthy economy, regardless of the social status or current economic means, we need to have an education and training system that is designed to create competent, capable and ready to work Caymanians – whether they want to be a professional accountant or a professional janitor etc. We need equal focus on education as on training. The education needs to be more than the physical buildings and facilities. We need a country where the education and adult training programmes provide the tools, teaching, quality teachers and support systems to allow people to achieve their highest potential. Training programmes in particular need to be effective and accessible and work to make sure our people are employable and able to advance in their chosen area of work. These training programmes cannot leave a generation behind, they MUST be geared to help working adults who are struggling financially with families and yet want to access necessary skills improvement and training. These training programmes must be designed to produce successes and reinforced by supporting immigration, labour and employment policies across the entire Government.
Area No. 3 – A healthy, harmonious Caymanian society
The single most important goal we ought to have for our country is that of a healthy society, with harmony, mutual respect and full integration of the expatriates and new Caymanians into the Caymanian way of life, culture and communities. This is very important to all of us – that expatriates are integrated into our society and not the other way around – because that is what every other developed country in the world does as it welcomes immigrants from all walks of life, whether doctors or janitors. Expecting expatriates to integrate into our society is to seek harmony and mutual respect, being pro-Caymanian is a transparent nationalist view similar to how Americans, Canadians, British, Brazilians, Singaporeans and Germans feel about their own country etc. Today, being pro-Caymanian is met with suspicion and interpreted as being “xenophobic” – that is just the result of generations of Caymanians who have been told to keep quiet and take whatever they are handed down by successive governments and business leaders who have regularly taken advantage of our traditionally humble demeanour, quiet nature and naiveté. After the social failings of the past 25 years by some of the same political players and policy makers seeking re-election in 2013, the new Caymanian society must be Caymanian first and by that, all those who choose to move here to live, work and even seek permanent residence must adopt the paradigm that Cayman is a place to respect, value and preserve the very things that attracted you here in the first place. In my mind that is best described as “Cayman for Caymanians and all who love it and choose to make it their home.”
Again, the 2013 election is our best opportunity to take definitive action and put our country back on the right course. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. This is why it is essential that first and foremost we are clear on what we want as a country.
Secondly, we need to leverage our individual power to bring about change by voting differently in 2013. Know the worth of your vote. We need to expect more and get more from those who want to lead. Do not just give your vote away based on long term friendships, family loyalties or the promise of a handout. Do not allow anyone to insult your intelligence, pride and personal integrity with the usual handouts, which pale in comparison to the personal perks, privileges and financial (not to mention the professional and commercial) rewards they are capable of reaping whilst in office. Reserve your vote for those individuals who you feel have earned it based on their efforts, their performance in public, private and professional life AND how transparent and logically they explain to you how electing them will help the country and in so doing, improve the quality of your day-to-day life in the Cayman Islands. We have a real opportunity to bring an end to the cycle of the career politician who has received much over the years yet provided so little in return to help our country. If you have any doubts, the evidence of their track record is best illustrated in the current state of the country, which is their collective legacy.
As voters, we need to stand united on our platform of better governance, better representation and accountability. Anybody who has not performed, who has failed to represent the people, their constituents and their legitimate concerns and who appeared to be avoiding accountability (particularly the members of Cabinet and former ministers) and yet remained content to receive all the perks and hefty compensation have to be removed from office. We cannot afford any more free riders. Ask yourself the question “in four years what has the individual done to earn my confidence, support, respect and most importantly, my vote on Election Day?”
For those newcomers and would-be first time politicians, ask the same tough questions. While they may not have a record in public office, they have a responsibility to demonstrate to you their character, their track record of getting things done and doing the RIGHT things when they had an opportunity to do so. Aspiring leaders must demonstrate their past willingness to listen and be accountable; otherwise their claims will be no more than campaign rhetoric until they get elected.
Do not give your vote away based on personalities, empty promises or party loyalty. Treat your votes as one of your most valuable tools to get the type of Government you want and create the type of Cayman where we can feel confident, comfortable and proud to raise our families, run our businesses and invite visitors. Reserve your vote for the leaders who best PROVE to you that they have a plan that can be implemented whilst not bankrupting us either morally or financially.
Expect more from candidates – it is the only way to get more from elected officials and from government. Vote carefully. Your vote will determine how the Cayman Islands moves forward in 2013. Will we advance the prosperity and peace through better governance and accountability? Or will we vote for parties, personalities and promises and propel ourselves into four more years of misery, divisiveness and creating an even greater disparity between the haves and have-nots in our tiny country.
All of our problems are fixable. Let’s work together to DO better now that we KNOW better.