There it was — boldly emblazoned in purple crayon — a makeshift marker for an illegal dumping ground on the North Side seashore, and a brazen sign of the perpetrator’s disrespect for Cayman Islands authorities, whom he dared, literally, to hold him accountable for his littering.
It could have been the perfect crime, that is, if it weren’t for the intimacy of the district of North Side. Ultimately, it didn’t take long after photos of the sign were published in this newspaper and on the Internet for a Department of Environmental Health investigator to narrow down the limited list of potential suspects to one.
“Catch me if you can,” he had declared. And catch him they did, but then they released him — and then they protected him.
Let us review. A contractor illegally dumped a load of construction debris and furniture on an otherwise-pristine North Side beach, also leaving behind a sign crowing about his sordid “accomplishment.” A Department of Environmental Health investigator tracked down the contractor, who admitted his guilt. Then the department issued the contractor an ultimatum.
Here’s where things went wrong. The department should have given the contractor two choices, as stipulated in the Litter Law: 1) Pay a $500 fine, or 2) Go to prison for six months.
Instead, the department gave him a third option: Clean up the mess, “and we’ll forget the whole thing ever happened.”
The contractor, who may indeed be smarter than he first seemed to be, chose option number 3, and now department officials are refusing to name publicly the guilty individual.
The litterbug’s clean getaway is but the latest illustration of Cayman’s inconsistent application of justice, that too often appears to depend on “who you are,” “who you fa” or “who you know” — evidence of which tends to emerge, particularly, in circumstances involving “soft” or “victimless” crimes, such as offenses against Cayman’s environment.
For example, in January, a fire burned more than 200 acres in the National Trust’s Salina Reserve in North Side, a nature reserve that is home to hundreds of protected indigenous Blue Iguanas. The blaze, which damaged nearly one-third of the conservation area, was suspected to have been caused by a neighboring property owner clearing land.
Burning brush, in the words of Fire Service acting chief John Bodden, “is totally illegal,” and according to police would generally be considered a “reckless and dangerous act” carrying a possible four-year prison term. Nevertheless, like the illegal dumper, the reckless firestarter remains uncharged and anonymous.
Next, consider the August incident where the Carnival Magic cruise ship’s anchor damaged more than 11,000 square feet of live coral in George Town harbor. From the beginning, the Department of Environment said it would be unlikely to pursue criminal charges, despite Cayman’s plainly written law on protecting reefs from ships and anchors.
Six months later, officials have studiously avoided assigning any hint of blame or responsibility to anyone among the three relevant parties, Carnival, Bodden Shipping Agency and the Port Authority. Subsequently, it has been left up to the private sector to cobble together resources and volunteer manpower to try to repair what is maybe a mortally damaged reef.
Despite laws, councils or committees seemingly devoted to conservation, the apparent truth is that prosecution in defense of our environment is often subjectively and selectively applied.