Editorial for September 19: Cayman's Cabinet: What's inside?

In the Caymanian Compass this week, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson declared Cayman to have an open government – and we would like to agree with him.

However, there’s just one issue: the Cayman Islands Cabinet.

For those unfamiliar with the parliamentary democracy process as currently applied in the Cayman Islands, here’s how it works: The appointed governor, after consulting with the premier, takes agenda items before the governing body known as Cabinet each week for approval. The Cabinet is made up of the seven elected ministers and the deputy governor. The governor and the attorney general typically sit in Cabinet meetings, but do not get to vote.

Cabinet members then deliberate on the various topics and make decisions either to approve, deny or defer the relevant items. Cabinet meetings are not open to the public, there is no agenda published regarding what items they are considering and there is no official public record of their decisions, although Cabinet members may from time to time reveal some of the decisions that are made.

We would like to see a more open and transparent process as it relates to the agenda and decisions of Cabinet for several reasons, but we must start by stating this is a more complex matter than it might appear. There are many issues in which Cabinet must have a comfortable private space to conduct deliberations. Some issues relate to serious matters such as national security, commercial interests and the economic future of these islands. No reasonable advocate for open records would expect everything a governing body in a democratic society discusses or contemplates to be made public.

Yet we cannot fathom why, in a modern, democratic society which the deputy governor himself has declared to have an open government, there seems to be such a complete veil of darkness surrounding the activities of Cabinet.

Bear in mind, the Cabinet is the first major decision-making authority on all issues that come before the local government. If Cabinet does not approve an item, it does not come to the Legislative Assembly for a vote. The general public may believe that the assembly floor is the place where “the buck stops,” so to speak, but in reality when a matter comes before the people’s house, it has long since been decided in the government’s private chamber.

We suggest that a simple, brief agenda of the matters Cabinet is to consider each week be made public a few days before the meeting. Private matters such as personnel disputes might be placed in an “executive session” category which would not be divulged on the weekly agenda. Following the meeting, the decisions of Cabinet could be listed next to each item whether the item is approved, denied or deferred.

Specific deliberations of each Cabinet member contained in the minutes of each meeting need not be released, in our view. However, factual reports that inform those deliberations, but that do not include any opinions or conclusions, could surely be released to the public as well.
If, as Deputy Governor Manderson says, Cayman has an open government, it seems to us that implementing these recommendations would be one important step to take in truly establishing such a claim.