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.