Today lawmakers are set to debate, and perhaps pass, legislation that gives unsurpassed powers to this and future Cabinets over development in the Cayman Islands, regardless of whether that involves conserving critical habitat for protected species, or bulldozing it.
Implicit in the 72 pages of inexplicable legalese, the National Conservation Bill contains so many unknowns and uncertainties that the bill deserves to be met with universal opposition from landholding Caymanians, the business community, developers and environmentalists alike. Admittedly, it’s an unlikely coalition, but this bill contains something for everyone to detest.
Yesterday, the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce called for a three-month postponement of consideration of the bill in the House. We agree a time-out is called for while amendments are carefully crafted and the all-important regulations are formulated and published.
Bill proponents, especially Environment Minister Wayne Panton, reassure us that concerns over the erosion of property rights are misplaced: “There is absolutely nothing in this bill that gives government the power to prohibit people from altering, developing or using their own land.”
While the Minister says that, the legislation doesn’t. But it should — in simple and understandable language that will leave no nuance or ambiguity for lawyers to wrangle about going forward.
We also take issue with Mr. Panton’s seemingly contradictory statements that the bill has been debated thoroughly over the last decade while at the same time arguing that the bill has been redrafted, and in the process added to, subtracted from, amended and watered down.
The truth is the public did not have the opportunity to evaluate this particular legislative concoction until Nov. 15, 2013, when Mr. Panton tabled it in the Legislative Assembly. That was a mere 26 days ago.
In fact, Mr. Panton introduced the bill, triggering the public consultation process, and the same day announced the process officially over: “It’s time for us to stop talking and get it done,” he said. It strikes us as odd that he would offer both the birth notice — and the death notice — of the consultation process in practically the same sentence.
Let’s be forthright: The contention that this bill has been the subject of public discussion for 10 years is both fanciful and disingenuous — and Minister Panton knows it. Hardly anyone (not just Caymanians) pays attention to just about anything (especially complex matters of public policy) until the proverbial “11th hour.”
Until the Compass began editorializing on this bill Nov. 25, its pros and cons were on very few lips, and even fewer radar screens. On Nov. 28, this newspaper printed the bill in its entirety in what must be the most boring 12-page supplement in the history of Cayman publishing. We thought that exercise was worthwhile, not because we expected it to become a “best seller,” but because we wanted our readers to appreciate the sheer magnitude of this legislation — even if that meant more weighing than actual reading. We trust that supplement has added to the public discourse.
In any event, we agree that Cayman needs a sustainable development policy and supporting laws that encourage economic growth while safeguarding our natural resources. However, those goals are too important to Cayman — and property rights are too important to Caymanians — to sacrifice them on the governmental altar of haste and political expediency.