After two years on the inside of Cayman Islands politics, George Town MLA Winston Connolly said last week that the current practice of elected members giving cash handouts to their supporters must be stopped.
“What I … have found in my two years in politics is that, on top of social services, the norm is to go to your politician for a ‘top up,’ so you don’t have to go through the proper channels and that, in my view, is wrong,” Mr. Connolly said. “These are not loans. It’s the monthly norm that politicians give, a lot of times to the same people over and over, from their own salary so that they can pay utilities, buy food, pay mortgages and school fees, etc.
“My own view is that it serves to absolve those politicians that do hand out money from having to cure the issue for another month. It’s shut-up money.
“When did it change that proud, able-bodied Caymanians would rather not work – even for entry level pay – but go to politicians for cash and rely on social services instead?”
Mr. Connolly said the issue was particularly crucial in smaller electoral districts. The government plans to move to single-member voting districts ahead of the 2017 elections, which will bring about smaller constituencies in which parliament members will be elected.
“Politicians in a small district have it much easier when helping those who come to them, financially, than politicians in a larger district,” Mr. Connolly said. “Eight thousand, eight hundred dollars divided into 600 [voters] goes a longer way than $8,800 divided into 7,500 voters.”
With respect to politicians handing out cash to supporters, Mr. Connolly said no one in the Legislative Assembly can truthfully deny that it occurs.
“I see it around me every day,” he said. “When I refuse to do it, I get cursed and told that [the voters] will just go to another politician who will [give them money] and that I will not get voted in again. So be it!
“I make no apologies to anyone by saying that I will not … give my salary away because that’s the current expectation of the people for their politicians. I have always given as much as I could afford to give and have done so for all my life including when I was in school. As a politician, I have chosen to give … to existing charities which operate indiscriminately and without thought of party affiliation or loyalty.”
One of the chief concerns about politicians giving such cash handouts – even if it is from their own paychecks – is that these donations are largely unregulated and can be given to anyone for any reason. They are typically given in exchange for political support, Mr. Connolly said.
“If we are going to continue this system, in addition to social services and the discretionary funds that ministers have to give, at least make it transparent and prepare a register of handouts,” the George Town MLA suggested. “Do spot checks to keep politicians honest by sending ‘mystery shoppers’ to see if handouts are being registered.
“We will then see if the money is going to a majority of the constituents, or just to political supporters.”
In attempts to propose changes, Mr. Connolly said newer elected members have often found efforts blocked over the years by more senior politicians.
“I have seen a system where politicians’ egos and history get in the way of real change and real solutions,” he said. “Where politicians treat their districts as their own fiefdoms and state what can and won’t happen there without the mandate of their people and won’t allow anything brought by outside politicians or the government to come in – even if it benefits the people who voted for them.
“[Such politicians] would rather have their people out of work and starving to preserve their right to be the person to bring the changes, the jobs. Where is the sense in that? Politicians who would hand out cash rather than find jobs for people, who spite each other while the whole country suffers, should no longer be politicians because they have failed their people.”
Mr. Connolly said he intends to broach two issues with the Progressives-led administration caucus in the coming months to attempt to resolve some of his concerns. The first is his proposal that term limits be adopted for all serving members of the Legislative Assembly. The second proposal would seek to outlaw “handouts by politicians.”
Seeking to clarify earlier media speculation, Mr. Connolly said he did not intend to bring these issues to the floor of the Legislative Assembly by way of private members’ motions without discussing them within the government caucus first. However, he said he reserved the right as an independent member of the Legislative Assembly to do so, if his concerns were not addressed.