— George Town MLA Winston Connolly
For at least as long as there has been a ready supply of easy money in the Cayman Islands, elected representatives have been doling it out to their constituents. Call it what you will: a demonstration of goodwill, political patronage, blatant vote-buying … We like freshman lawmaker Winston Connolly’s description: “It’s shut-up money.”
In their entirety, Mr. Connolly’s remarks, recently published in the Compass, comprise a collection of similar unvarnished and undiluted truths (our favorite kind) that are well worth exploring and expounding upon.
Here are two key paragraphs: “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.”
“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.”
In this space, we shall confine our observations to three themes.
First, what do Mr. Connolly’s statements say about their speaker? Well, if Diogenes is still looking for an honest man, tell him to stop. We have found him.
How long this particular man will remain in office — after challenging openly Cayman’s long-established practice of politicians paying (or “paying off”) the electorate — will be up to the voters to decide. The conventional, if not cynical, wisdom would be that Mr. Connolly is not long for this Legislative Assembly. We, however, would challenge that assertion.
Personally, we prefer our leaders to be vertebrates, and we consider candor to be a desirable characteristic, rather than a disqualification.
We’re sure many Caymanian voters will agree. In any case, these kinds of things tend to be sorted out by elections.
Second, what does the practice of “vote-buying” say about Cayman as a democracy? As a Compass reader commented on our website, as long as our elected lawmakers are allowed to pay constituents in exchange for their support (tacit or spoken), all of our government’s watchdog authorities, anti-corruption bodies and “standards in public life” amount to nothing but farce.
As Mr. Connolly noted, the ease with which a politician is able to “buy” his office has a direct, inverse correlation to the size of the district. In other words, the fewer voters there are in a district, the less money needs to be spent to secure a majority (or, the more money a politician can afford to pay each voter in order to woo him to his camp).
That argument — which has been made by others, including Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush — should be kept in mind as the Progressives continue to move toward implementing a “one man, one vote” system predicated on the division of Grand Cayman into 16 single-member electoral districts.
Last, and most fundamentally, what does the whole situation say about Cayman as a society? Apart from the adulteration of the body politic, the fact that many people have come to rely on regular “gifts” from lawmakers exemplifies, and exacerbates, the dependence-oriented ethos that grips significant segments of our country’s population.
As our political cartoonist illustrates today on this page, a handout is a handout. There is little difference — practically and philosophically speaking — between begging on the street and soliciting from an elected representative, except one is out in the open and comes with no strings attached.