Busy week of bills for lawmakers

The Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly is set to be inundated this week with bills seeking massive change to the country’s business culture and its political election system. 

Even if earlier proposed changes to local labor law and pensions reforms are not taken up in the meeting that starts Wednesday, gas prices, liquor laws and legal aid are among the amendments up for consideration. 

‘One man, one vote’ 

The tabling and approval of the Electoral Boundary Commission’s 2015 report, expected this week, will be the final legislative step required to change Cayman’s next general election from multimember to single-member voting districts, effectively ending a debate that has carried on in the territory since 1971. 

Approval by a majority of lawmakers is required before the territory’s voting system changes. Cayman’s next general election is expected to be held in May 2017. 

A draft of the voting map proposed for the Cayman Islands 2017 general election, released by the boundary commission earlier this year, would add one more representative seat to the Legislative Assembly, for a total of 19 legislators. 

The single-member constituencies proposal creates seven voting areas in George Town district, four constituencies each in Bodden Town and West Bay districts, two on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, and one apiece in East End and North Side. All single-member constituencies, except for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, East End and North Side, will maintain approximately the same number of voters. 

The change proposed for the voting system ahead of the 2017 election will implement the principle of “one man, one vote,” taking away the ability of voters in the larger multimember districts of West Bay, George Town, Bodden Town and the Sister Islands to elect more than one representative to the assembly. 

Fuel rules 

The Dangerous Substances Handling and Storage (Amendment) Bill, 2015, as proposed states: “The chief petroleum inspector shall … collect from importers, and compile, analyze and abstract, information on fuel prices and pricing methods and provide such information to the minister.” 

The legislation, often discussed as local petrol prices rose, dropped and then rose again over the past year, is seen as the potential first step toward a government-controlled fuel market in the Cayman Islands. 

The revised law would allow the petroleum inspector to request information on the price of all fuel imported and sold and the “pricing methods” used by importers in the sale of fuel to retail operators and consumers. Those costs can include: initial costs, cost of freight, insurance and brokerage fees, customs duties, estimates of fuel in stock, and the amount and type of fuel to be imported in the next shipment. 

The legislation proposes a $20,000 fine or imprisonment for one year, or both, for anyone who fails to provide information or who provides false information to the government inspector. In addition, the bill would allow government to sue the importers to force them to provide the information required. 

Liquor law 

Sweeping changes proposed for Cayman’s Liquor Licensing Law seek to end what government and business leaders have described as the “black market” for liquor licenses. 

Among the major changes proposed in the Liquor Licensing (Amendment) Bill are requirements that every business owner who applies for a liquor license must first be the holder of a Trade and Business License. 

Currently that is not required, however if someone sells liquor without having a valid trade and business license, they can be fined up to $10,000 upon conviction. 

The new requirement aims to stop the practice of individuals holding on to liquor licenses they are not using and then selling them at unregulated prices to the highest bidder. 

Rather than continuing a moratorium for liquor licenses that is lifted at various times, the new bill would remove the requirement to lift the moratorium in order to grant new licenses. 

Anyone who does not currently have a licensed business, but who holds a liquor license, will have the license terminated unless they apply for and receive a Trade and Business License and open a liquor-licensed premises. 

The amendments also seek to change the current makeup of the Liquor Licensing Board of Grand Cayman, and to a lesser extent, the board of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. 

Legal aid 

The government will again attempt to change how criminal defendants, and others before the courts, can receive government assistance in paying for legal counsel. 

The Legal Aid Bill, 2015, seeks to set an initial limit of $20,000 per court case where the government is footing the bill. The bill also seeks to give an unspecified government minister a significant degree of influence over the legal aid budget. 

The proposal, one of several that has sought to reform the current legal aid system in the past decade, would, if approved by lawmakers, broaden the types of court cases that might qualify for legal aid. The bill proposes legal aid be made available not only in criminal matters, but for certain civil cases and family court proceedings that directly relate to the care of a minor. 

The bill also seeks to identify certain court cases that would not qualify for legal aid from government, including defamation cases, legal actions against real estate agents and legal actions related to a political election, among other civil matters. 

A director of legal aid – a civil servant to be appointed by a ministry chief officer – would supervise expenditures and “shall not, without the prior written approval of the court administrator and the clerk of the court, authorize any expenditure in any one legal aid matter in excess of $20,000.” That cap could be exceeded depending on such issues as the length and complexity of the case, among other determinations. 

The current hourly rate for legal aid lawyers, $135 per hour, would be increased to $160 per hour in the legislation. 

Budget bill 

The current government budget will be Cayman’s last one-year public sector budget cycle, if amendments to the Public Management and Finance Law are approved. 

As of Jan. 1, 2018, the bill seeks to move Cayman’s annual budgeting period to a two-year process. 

In order to get to that point, when the current budget year ends on June 30, 2016, the next government budget cycle would run from July 1, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2017, a period of 18 months. After that, the two-year budgeting process would begin. 

The proposed changes will also change Cayman’s current July-June budget to a calendar year January-December process. Each government financial year would end on Dec. 31, but the “budget period” considered by the elected government would span two years.