Rivers challenge would be moot under CPA plan
The case involving Cayman Islands Education Minister Tara Rivers’ eligibility to stand for elected office headed to Grand Court on Tuesday amid multiple questions over whether she met qualifications in the Constitution and the Elections Law to seek the position she now holds.
However, according to Commonwealth Parliamentary Association observers who visited Cayman during the week of the May general elections, some of the requirements that are now troubling Ms Rivers should be done away with entirely because they are “too restrictive”.
A petition, filed at the 21-day deadline following the election tally, claims Ms Rivers both holds a US passport and failed to fulfil the mandated seven-year local residence requirement prior to her nomination.
Section 61[f] of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order, 2009, states that a candidate for election is qualified if “in the seven years immediately preceding the date of his or her nomination for election, the number of days on which he or she was absent from the Cayman Islands does not exceed 400”.
There are exceptions to that rule including if the person’s absence was due to pursuing their education abroad, hospitalisation abroad, overseas duties as a seaman, on an aircraft or generally in the performance of government duties.
US citizenship/passport issues cost at least one declared candidate, Bodden Town’s Richard Christian, his shot at elected office this time around. In addition, George Town hopeful Sharon Roulstone had to jettison her US citizenship in order to seek elected office.
Section 61(2)(b) of the Constitution qualifies a person for elected membership in the Legislative Assembly if that person has a close family connection with the Cayman Islands and is a British Overseas Territories citizen. According to the section, the person can qualify to stand for election if they were born outside the Cayman Islands, had at least one parent or grandparent born in the Cayman Islands and who is Caymanian and “who at the date of his her nomination for election possesses no other citizenship save for any right he or she may have to some other citizenship by virtue of his or her birth outside the Cayman Islands”.
So, it appeared that Ms Roulstone, having been born in the Cayman Islands, could not keep her US passport and citizenship and run for local office, while someone else who was born outside Cayman but with the requisite family connections, could maintain that citizenship.
One such individual is her older sister, who was born outside the Cayman Islands and who at one point had to get a work permit and eventually be granted Caymanian status via application. Yet, Ms Roulstone said her sister could run for office while keeping her US citizenship and she cannot.
“She was not regarded as Caymanian [at the time] but now, under the Constitution, she complies with section 61(2)(b),” Ms Roulstone said. “She has another citizenship as a right by virtue of her birth abroad, so she could run for office in Cayman – more qualified than I could – yet, I was chairman of the immigration board when my sister had to have a work permit.”
The six-person election observer team led by Malta MP Mario Galea noted these types of restrictions appeared to be “unreasonably limiting” the right of all Caymanians to stand for elective office.
For instance, Mr. Galea noted the peculiar wording that a person can be disqualified if “he or she is by virtue of his or her own act under and acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state”.
“The lack of clarity in the Constitution Order, 2009, on what constitutes his or her own act led the Elections Office … to make different decisions in similar cases,” the CPA observers’ initial report noted. Mr. Galea even noted in a press conference on the subject that while Ms Roulstone had to drop her US passport, West Bay candidate Cline Glidden, Jr. was not disqualified even though he held a US passport at one time. Both Ms Roulstone and Mr. Glidden were unsuccessful in the May 2013 elections.
The requirements of residency in the territory prior to elections is also a problem, Commonwealth observers noted.
“While to a large extent these requirements are reasonable, some of them – namely the required durations of residence in the Cayman Islands before the nomination – appear to be unreasonably limiting the right to stand for elective office,” the CPA report noted.
The Commonwealth observers group also considered the rights of voter registration in its report and found the number of eligible voters to be rather larger than the number of registered voters.
“The 2010 population and housing Census data indicate that still around 5,000 Caymanians in voting age have not registered as electors and are therefore left out,” the Commonwealth observers concluded.
Also, requirements that a voter be a resident in the Cayman Islands for periods amounting to not less than two years in the four years prior to the general election date were found to be unreasonable.
“This requirement … might have prevented a number of otherwise eligible Caymanians from exercising their right to vote,” the CPA report stated.