The politics 
of personality

The ruling Progressives government, sitting as Finance Committee in the full Legislative Assembly on Friday, refused to allocate an additional $1.3 million to deploy 12 new police officers to the eastern districts of Grand Cayman. The request for the funds came from North Side MLA Ezzard Miller and East End MLA Arden McLean.

Premier Alden McLaughlin opposed the request, pointing out (no doubt correctly) that Finance Committee was the wrong venue in which to consider, ad hoc, new budget allocations.

Nevertheless, we have some sympathy for the members’ request ­– after all, no one knows their districts better than they do.

Although relatively few people live in North Side and East End, the isolation can serve as encouragement for opportunistic thugs, thieves and malcontents. Historically, the secluded ports in the eastern districts have been utilized by international traffickers of drugs, guns and other contraband. In recent times, we have seen violent crimes, including murder and robberies, against residents and visitors.

Especially troubling, in March, a police officer was hospitalized after suffering a serious head injury after being struck by an object, possibly a rock. The armed officer was responding to the scene of a party in East End, with reportedly more than 100 people in attendance, where someone had slashed the tires of a police patrol car.

The apparent lack of respect for police authority and complete disregard for the officer’s life is chilling, especially considering the alleged assailant – who was arrested but, to our knowledge, never charged in court – was only 19 years old. Something is clearly amiss in these districts, and we applaud their representatives in seeking additional manpower.

(Police Commissioner David Baines, although not opposing the increased funds for increased deployments, has pointed out that all five island districts are staffed relatively equally, considering the number of calls they receive “for immediate response” – 79 incidents per officer per year in George Town, 64 in West Bay, and 66 in Bodden Town, East End and North Side.)

What we are becoming increasingly concerned about, however, is the role that “personality-based politics” are playing in limiting Messrs. Miller’s and McLean’s ability to deliver services and amenities to their respective constituents.

In the previous UDP government, Mr. Miller was at odds, sometimes practically pugnaciously, with the premier and most members of his government. Mr. McLean, who was then an ardent member of the PPM opposition, resigned from that political party in favor of becoming an independent alongside Mr. Miller. Now, of course, the party he divorced holds all of the legislative and budgetary power.

For many years now, the eastern districts have been represented by leaders who are (to put it mildly) alienated from successive sitting governments. As independents, they are a minority within a minority, representing tiny voting constituencies – not exactly a formula for effectiveness in a parliamentary democracy.

While it may not say so in political science textbooks, wise politicians in the minority know that their effectiveness depends almost solely on their ability to persuade, to cajole and to compromise with those in the majority.

If they don’t conduct themselves accordingly, they may continue to be welcomed back to their districts with open arms – but they will still be coming home with empty hands.

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