The proposed National Conservation Bill protects urchins, snakes and algae. It also protects lizards and cacti, bugs, slugs, scorpions and other unpleasant critters and creatures that will bite or sting you.
What it doesn’t protect is the Caymanian people.
This newspaper is in unalloyed opposition to the premise underlying the bill: that government can and should dictate what people can or cannot do with their own property.
Protection of private property is a central tenet of modern democracy and a right every bit as fundamental as free speech, privacy and religion.
U.S. President Calvin Coolidge observed, “Ultimately property rights and personal rights are the same thing.”
On a primary level, this bill empowers government to prohibit people from altering, developing or using their own land, based on “plans” to be created and approved by an appointed board.
No. Property rights are inalienable and must be immune from violation or infringement by any government, regulatory body or appointed council.
The best of intentions are almost always temporal and conveniently soluble as climates change – in this instance, political climates.
This legislation is ill-conceived, ill-drafted, and being advanced by a committed, but misguided, environmental lobby, headed up by Department of the Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie and Minister of the Environment Wayne Panton.
Consider Mr. Panton’s remarks as he laid the 2013 bill on the table in the Legislative Assembly: “I am not going to engage in protracted discussions or make protracted amendments at this point, given the incredible amount of time that has already been allowed for public discussion. It is time for us to stop talking and get it done.”
In other words, “Aw, shaddup.”
Mr. Panton is correct that this bill has been marinating for a decade, with no elected government willing to move it into law. There’s a reason for that: It’s a horrible bill. And, frankly, it has not been widely discussed or examined. We would wager most people don’t have a clue as to what’s in it.
In coming days, this newspaper will report and editorialize on the content of the bill and its implications. It’s not an easy task because the language of the legislation appears so purposely obfuscatory, approaching opacity, that it would benefit from a translator. Nevertheless, we will be examining these and other issues:
• The limitation of property owners’ rights
• The makeup and powers of the Council (the majority will be political appointees)
• Species Conservation Plans, including interim orders
• The creation and arming (excepting firearms) of Conservation Officers, “deputized” Conservation Wardens, and Animal Welfare Officers
Mr. Panton’s wishful thinking and proclamation of inevitability aside, this bill is still just a bill, no more. Before it becomes a law, it must be considered by the entire Legislative Assembly and put up for a vote by all Cayman’s elected representatives – not just the ruling Progressives or the members of Cabinet.
While we do care about the survival of some endemic species, such as blue iguanas and ghost orchids, we don’t care what manner of extinction meets this National Conservation Bill, as long as it’s swift and permanent.
Premier Alden McLaughlin has stated that he thinks that the vote in the Legislative Assembly on this legislation should be 18-0.
We couldn’t agree more: 18 to 0 AGAINST.