We haven’t intended for Minister Bodden’s viewpoint to remain absent from the pages of this newspaper. That’s been his choice.
His decision to go underground is part of a larger pattern of ducking and dodging by the ruling Progressives government. The PPM’s official press strategy, it appears, is to avoid the press. Last week, Premier McLaughlin denounced holding weekly Cabinet press briefings, saying he would not “let the media take potshots at us” – in other words, field unvetted questions in public.
The Compass has in its possession a memo from Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose, dated Nov. 7, instructing chief officers that “major announcements, important press releases or new public relations initiatives” must now be routed through the premier’s Press Secretary Tammie Chisholm before being sent to the media.
The directive applies to all central government, statutory authorities and government companies.
The goal, according to the memo, is “to avoid situations where Ministers and Members of Cabinet are taken by surprise by important official announcements.”
Government has created a situation where a lone, politically appointed gatekeeper controls the flow of information from all of government, despite the scores of public employees engaged in, and millions of dollars spent on, communications, marketing and public relations, including Government Information Services, which churns out nonstop government-aggrandizing press releases that, frankly, go from their computers to media house wastepaper baskets. The government also has its own dedicated television channel and, inappropriately, owns and funds Radio Cayman. Collectively, in our times of so-called fiscal austerity, this is a high-cost, but largely ineffective, governmental propaganda machine.
But back to Minister Bodden and his silence on the landfill. For the record, the Caymanian Compass’s position on solid waste management is clear: Remediate the current dump site. Create a new facility. Follow public finance laws. Do not discriminate for or against any particular district.
The newspaper has been critical of the political arrangement among Premier Alden McLaughlin and the four members from Bodden Town, which resulted in Mr. Bodden’s appointment to head the ministry in charge of the dump.
One of Minister Bodden’s first official acts was to repudiate the Dart Group’s $59 million offer to remediate the George Town landfill and create the first phase of a new facility near Midland Acres. Following that, it now appears we have no money, no solutions, no plan, and “no comment.”
The newspaper invited Minister Bodden to sit down for an interview, giving him the opportunity to share his thoughts with the Caymanian people. Minister Bodden responded to our request: He respectfully declined.
Minister Bodden could at least show the fortitude demonstrated by Environmental Minister Wayne Panton, who was good enough to castigate the editorial board in writing for our contrary position on the National Conservation Bill. He was a worthy ideological adversary.
Unfortunately, this government’s communications policy is closer to Minister Bodden’s than Minister Panton’s.
The government’s facile attempts to force-feed its message to the public through its controlled media will not deter serious journalists, including those at the Compass. We will continue to hold officials accountable for what they say, or what they refuse to say.
If our country’s top elected members continue to maintain a self-serving, but self-defeating, “no-potshots-at-us” bunker mentality, the Compass won’t take particular offense. But members of the public should.