The May 2013 general election will be the first one to take place with the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Law in effect and police are urging voters not to make their election ballots a ticket to Northward Prison.
Selling votes, according to a series of public service announcements scheduled to begin running today [Monday], can end in jail sentences or hefty fines.
Not only is attempting to influence voters by gifting items such as food, drink, appliances or electronics a crime, but seeking to obtain such an enticement is also an offence under the law.
Public officials, including Legislative Assembly members can get up to 14-year prison sentences or fines of up to $2,000 for “supplying or accepting inducement” under section 10 of the Anti-Corruption Law. Meanwhile, members of the public can receive a year in prison and a $2,000 fine, according to the Elections Law.
“There have been many rumours circulating in Cayman in recent years about items such as fridges and cash being used to buy votes,” Police Commissioner David Baines said. ”Despite these rumours, no complaints have been made to police and no one has been charged.
“There has been much public and media speculation about this subject in recent days and, as such, we felt it important to ensure that all of those involved in the election process are made aware of the hefty penalties for this crime.”
Mr. Baines did clarify one point that had caused some consternation among local political groups vying for office in the 22 May vote.
Commissioner Baines said low value food and drink items like sodas, finger sandwiches and chicken wings at Cayman Islands political rallies would be acceptable, as long they aren’t considered excessive.
The commissioner said during an appearance on the government radio station Thursday that the election offence of “treating” in the Elections Law is something both candidates and voters need to be aware of as it gets closer to 22 May.
“If you attend a three-hour political meeting and there are soft drinks and there is light refreshment and sandwiches … that is made available to keep you interested, and it’s of a low value, that is not considered treating,” Mr. Baines told Radio Cayman’s Talk Today show Thursday afternoon. “It’s a subjective value.”
Generally, the commissioner said “common sense” should rule the day.
“In Hong Kong, a businessman held a buffet in support of a political candidate,” Mr. Baines said, giving another example. He charged the people who attended $5 a head, but they received an open bar and food in excess of $100. Now, was that corruptly offered in order to influence voting? Yes it was.
“If that occurred here, that would be exactly the same. If someone goes into a licenced premises and puts $500 behind the bar and shouts out ‘drink as much as you want on me, remember me on voting day’ that’s treating.”
Statements last week by Elections Office officials about “food-for-votes” issues in the upcoming elections threw the local political scene into a minor uproar, as the provision of food and drink is common at local political events.
The confusion over the issue led at least one George Town candidate to cancel catering for a public meeting held last week, only to realise that another political group had its event catered that same night with no apparent legal repercussions.
“Treating” under the Elections Law (2009 Revision) is defined as an offence for “every person who corruptly … provides or pays, wholly or in part, the expenses of giving or providing any food, drink, entertainment or provision to or for any persons for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person, or any other person, to vote or refrain from voting at such election … and every elector who corruptly accepts or takes any such food, drink, entertainment or provision”.
Supervisor of Elections Kearney Gomez said steps have already been taken to ensure that candidates, and their agents when appointed, are fully conversant with the relevant laws.
“All candidates have been supplied with a handbook as well as the supervisor’s letter, which addressed certain topical information, including elections offences,” Mr. Gomez said. “Additionally, a candidate’s kit is available for purchase from the Elections Office that provides an A–Z guide to the elections process.
“They should be well aware of what is legal and what is not, when they engage in public and media discussions.”