‘Get off of 
my land’

Land trumps politics.

And may it always be so in these Cayman Islands.

Politicians, Cabinets, Legislative Assemblies, committees and councils are transitory – they come and go as surely as the tides – but the inalienable right of Caymanians to do what they wish with their private land must remain constant – immutable and unassailable by any governmental body or outside agents, be they elected members, environmentalists or developers.

In recent days, scrutiny, transparency and publicity have not been allies of the National Conservation Bill. As of this writing, Environment Minister Wayne Panton has conducted three district town hall-type meetings on his signature legislation. They have not gone well.

The first, in West Bay, attracted almost no interest and, consequently, almost no attendees – perhaps 20.

The second, in Bodden Town, brought out three times as many people and at least 10 times as much anger. Landowners, overflowing with opprobrium, directed their outright contempt at Minister Panton and director of the Department of the Environment, Gina Ebanks-Petrie.

The third meeting, in North Side, also brought little comfort to the presenters. Attendees, apparently well-schooled on the proposed bill, demanded that many amendments be made. They were supported by their representative, Mr. Ezzard Miller, who has come out in strong opposition to the legislation.

We can sympathize with Mr. Panton, but we might have a worthwhile observation or two – and possibly even a solution – for him and his acolytes.

As Mr. Panton knows from his career as a partner in a large law firm, a clever attorney can argue any side of any issue on behalf of his client. That’s what lawyers do.

However, even the most skilled attorney cannot argue both sides of an issue at the same time, and that is the conundrum Mr. Panton faces. On the one hand, he wants to reassure landowners that the Conservation Bill will not affect their properties, and on the other hand, reassure environmentalists that his bill forcefully protects the environment.

We may have a solution for the minister: Offer a much simpler bill that states clearly what he himself wrote in a recent letter to the editor of the Compass:

“There is absolutely nothing in this bill that gives government the power to prohibit people from altering, developing or using their own land.”

Make that the first sentence of the bill, and the Compass will support it.

Additionally, we would recommend eliminating entirely from the legislation the contentious National Conservation Council. Kill. It. Dead.

If Mr. Panton’s bill really regulates only Crown land, why do we need a 13-member Council to oversee only 6 percent of our land? Let Cabinet handle it.

In short, this bill should be short – and understandable. It took 12 pages of fine print to reproduce it in its entirety last week in the Compass. That required the sacrifice of far too many trees.

We would suggest a simple three-part bill. Part One: A straightforward statement that the bill exempts all private property and regulates only Crown land. Part Two: An explanation of how it will regulate Crown land. And Part Three: An appendix that enumerates the plants and animals to be protected.

That’s it. Write it, pass it, and go home early.

We will leave you with a stanza of a poem by Bill Noonan:

I might be old but I ain’t blind.
I see what’s been going on.
Every other ol’ family living on this road
You got moved out and gone.
But right here’s where I aim to spend my days,
Right here’s where I’ll make my stand.
Get off of my land.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. According to our constitution, our rights to property are not currently inalienable. Our land is already able to be taken by the government through the compulsory purchase scheme which enables the government to purchase property if it is deemed to be in the public interest. This is why the government is able to take land to build roads. In addition, the Planning Laws currently mandate a variety of restrictions on what can and cannot be done on certain pieces of property. I cannot understand why the Compass is continuing to argue against the Bill on the premise of inalienable property rights when they just don’t exist.

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  2. The Bill might not be perfect. Perhaps a very able lawyer can manipulate it to the benefit of his/ her client. The fact of the matter is that the Bill is created to protect the interest of community and the country as a whole. Land owners are worried that legal roadblocks will keep them from developing the land or worse, from selling the land to those who can develop it. Individually it feels to me land owners and developers do not have the country’s interest in the long run but their personal gain in the short time. Any one thinking that for an endemic frog or snail can be stopped from developing, already tells me that they do not really care much and consider it not enough justification.
    I do not see the same land owners and developers raising their voice with the same eagerness for the sewage problems, trash accumulation and pollution that increased development will bring in the future. Those problems will be for future governments to solve. But the truth is the inhabitants of these islands will be the ones to suffer for the mistakes we all make now.
    As it is right now, if the developers and land owners were so caring, we would not have the problems we have: mangroves destroyed, land cleaned up with disregard, cemented ponds, polluted shore lines and more.
    Truth is, we are all good citizens but it is proven we are better if we are watched and supervised. This Law will do this. One thing I do know, the D.O.E. does not have a financial interest in this. The developers and land owners do

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