Opinion: Civil servants must seem neutral in elections

By all accounts, next month’s general elections represent a critical decision by the Cayman Islands electorate.  

With 56 candidates running either in one of Cayman’s two official political parties, as independents or as part of a political alliance, the elections will decide Cayman’s policy course for the next four years during a very challenging time in its development and it will also serve as a mandate for the political party system. 

Whether Cayman stays on the course it is on or heads in a different direction depends largely on the choice or choices of voters who will be bombarded with campaign rhetoric and various bits of information – and misinformation – in the weeks leading up to the elections. 

Cayman’s many public servants form a major voting bloc that can influence elections just by their sheer numbers. However, because some civil servants have knowledge of government’s workings or have access to confidential documents, they could use this information to further the political agenda of candidates they support.  

One only has to think back to 2005 when then Chief Officer Charles Clifford took documents from the Ministry of Tourism and released them to the media. Although Mr. Clifford contended he had a duty to the people of the country to see that the information of what he felt was wrongdoing by the former Minister of Tourism McKeeva Bush was made public, the fact that Mr. Clifford was running for office with the party that opposed Mr. Bush’s and that he waited until the run-up to the election to release the information suggested there was a least an element of self-interest involved. Ironically, much of the information released to the media by Mr. Clifford would now be available to anyone who asked for it through the Freedom of Information Law. However, the fact remains that at the time, Mr. Clifford broke the rules governing the civil service, as determined by the Commission of Enquiry convened in 2008 to investigate the matter. Even if the Freedom of Information Law would now allow the dissemination of documents that could be damaging to political candidates – as happens often these days – civil servants are still guided by rules that are supposed to maintain at least their appearance of political neutrality. To do otherwise undermines the sitting government and does a disservice to the democratic process. Of course all public servants are entitled to an election opinion and we wholeheartedly support their expression of that opinion in the privacy of their homes and in the voting booth. However, they must remain political neutral in their outward appearances. 

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