Keep an eye on lawmakers this week

Unless you happen to be suffering from insomnia, we don’t normally recommend attempting to watch, or listen to, the verbal (often verbose) activity taking place inside the Legislative Assembly. However, this week it may very well be worth tuning in to Cayman Islands Government Television, as lawmakers are expected to tackle several significant pieces of legislation that could potentially alter the political and economic fabric of our country.

In this editorial space, we’ll focus on a few highlights: “one man, one vote”; gas prices; and liquor laws.

Legislators may vote to abolish the current electoral system in Cayman and replace it with a scheme where the three largest districts — West Bay, George Town and Bodden Town — will be broken up into individual mini-districts, each electing one person to the Legislative Assembly. (Adding, in the process, a 19th seat to the local Parliament.)

We continue to oppose this proposed change, which is a major campaign promise by the Progressives, for a number of reasons. First, the new plan does not bring about “voter equality.” While lawmakers in the three largest districts will represent about 1,000 voters apiece, lawmakers in the three smallest districts (East End, North Side and the Sister Islands) will each represent about 500 voters, meaning their ballots effectively count twice as much as everyone else’s.

Second, the trend should be for Cayman’s leaders to think in broader, more global terms. The new system will encourage them to focus even more on narrow parochial interests, and will reward savvy politicians who “reward” particular neighborhoods, even at the expense of the wider country. If anything, Cayman needs fewer, larger districts — not more numerous, smaller ones.

Third, we believe Cayman’s lawmakers are underestimating the all-consuming nature of the “redistricting” process. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, haggling over lines on maps (for the furtherance of individual political careers) can easily become the top item on everyone’s agenda, and smother debate on topics of real public policy importance.

We also vigorously oppose lawmakers’ proposals to meddle with Cayman’s fuel market. It is true that the prevailing price of gasoline ranges anywhere from an arm, to a leg, to both. However, legislators’ proposed solution is far worse than the perceived problem.

The legislation at hand would allow government officials to demand information on fuel pricing (including future fuel shipments). This by itself is antithetical enough to the idea of a free economy in Cayman, but as the first step to a possible government-controlled fuel market, it’s even more chilling.

Government can and perhaps should act, within its existing framework of powers, to ease the burden of fuel prices on consumers. But those steps should be limited to reducing fees and relaxing regulatory burdens, not increasing the bureaucracy.

On the other hand, legislators are considering another business-centric bill we consider to be promising, even perhaps long overdue. Proposed changes to the Liquor Licensing Law are aimed at ending Cayman’s “black market” for liquor licenses.

Currently, it is common for individuals to “hold” liquor licenses — without being directly involved in a store, restaurant, bar or business that sells alcohol. Instead, they sell or even “rent out” their government licenses to actual business owners, in exchange for hefty sums. This black market has been enabled by government’s instructions to not issue any new liquor licenses (with a few exceptions, such as for hotels), thereby imbuing existing licenses, through scarcity, with artificial value.

If anything, the changes may not go far enough. We remain unconvinced that an appointed Liquor Licensing Board is necessary to the process of granting permission to sell alcohol (or, for that matter, allow music and dancing). The board, most likely, creates opportunities for potential malfeasance, and underhanded “gamesmanship,” where none otherwise would have existed.