All of us know what vocal cords are – God gave them to us for a purpose – and most of us know what vertebrates are: a large group of species, signified by having a backbone.
As the debate in Cayman continues on the National Conservation Bill, we are becoming concerned that Caymanians, including business leaders, are anatomically lacking in matters of the spine. By choice, and it’s a very consequential one, they are staying out of the public debate.
Historically, most Caymanians have been reluctant to exercise fully their right of free speech – some say for fear of political retribution, others, we’re convinced, out of cowardice. Democracy is hobbled when only a small sampling of the populace is willing to step forward. An organized and vocal minority will beat a disorganized and silent majority every time.
We are dismayed by the disparity between what we are hearing in private and what we are witnessing in public relative to the Conservation Bill. Because this newspaper has been unambiguously vocal in its position on this bill – we’re against it – the publishers are applauded on the street (“way to go; keep it up”), but left singing solo publicly in what should be a chorus of concern.
Make no mistake about it: If the most thoughtful and wise among us cede this debate on the Conservation Bill to the anonymous bloggers on Cayman News Service or the regular ranters on Rooster radio, the country will get exactly what it deserves. Such are the fruits of reticence and sitting on the sidelines.
For years, those with power and influence have been effective in working in the back rooms, schmoozing with politicians, and coming to “gentlemen’s agreements” outside of the sight of the citizenry.
It’s a comfortable strategy but one whose day has largely come and gone. It certainly won’t work regarding the National Conservation Bill.
Privately we know of a number of individuals and large companies that have hired legal counsel to examine the National Conservation Bill line by line. It’s an exhaustive, and expensive, exercise, and all have reported the same thing: This is one of the most damaging pieces of legislation ever to make its way through the Honorable House.
And yet, those who will be most affected by the bill are the ones who are not speaking out against it. Where are the collective voices of our business associations?
In Grand Cayman Magazine, a sister publication of the Compass, the publisher was cheeky enough to “write” the first speech for incoming Governor Helen Kilpatrick. This is what he suggested she say in her inaugural address:
“Cayman is a free society, not a dictatorial state, and locals and residents alike must – and will – be able to speak their mind without fear of consequence. I’m told that many in these islands are afraid to sign their name to their own public utterances for fear of losing their jobs, losing contracts, or falling out of favor with public officials …
“I have a better idea. Anyone falling victim to such intimidation should call my office, tell me the circumstances, and name names. Perpetrators do not deserve anonymity. I promise you, you will be protected, but your intimidators will not. My government will not tolerate an intolerance of free speech by government officials.”
Like ownership of private land, free speech is a fundamental right. Unless it’s used, it’s useless – a mere slogan, nothing more. If you have an opinion on the Conservation Bill – either for or against – send it to us at the Compass. We’ll be pleased to publish it – if you sign your name.