In the run-up to the passage of the National Conservation Law in late 2013, we warned readers that the legislation would grant tremendous authority to the Council, arguably making it the second-most powerful governmental body in Cayman, next to Cabinet. We predicted that the Council would emerge as a force against development, yet would do little to promote actual environmental conservation.
Two years later, the Council has been rather short on actual results, for example, designating protected areas to conserve protected species, or funding significant projects from the $50 million-or-so Environmental Protection Fund (outside of its allocation of $200,000 for, of all things, green iguana eradication efforts).
The Council has, however, found time to inject itself into government’s evaluation process for cruise berthing, raising objections that appear designed to delay the project, perhaps to death. On Monday, we reported that the Council is finding fault with the Ministry of Tourism’s leadership of the project and is protesting the usurpation of the role of the Environmental Assessment Board, which includes two departmental representatives who also happen to serve on the Council.
Generally speaking, what we have here is an unelected special interest group, empowered with authority, that is in active opposition to the stated policy of Cayman’s elected government.
Remember that the 13-member Council includes five civil servants, including Director of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie, setting up a conflict between the civil service and the elected government. Remember, too, that Minister of Environment Wayne Panton can be viewed as the Council’s patron and champion, setting up an intra-Cabinet conflict with Minister of Tourism Moses Kirkconnell.
And don’t forget who’s footing the bill for both sides of the argument, for the port and against it: Cayman’s taxpayers.
Last December, we outlined the various powers of the Council, saying, “That’s the nature of the beast that Cayman has created for itself. We have yet to learn of its temperament.”
In light of our statement, consider the Council’s announcement (which appears in today’s Compass) that it is restricting the ability of journalists to record the proceedings of their heretofore “public” meetings. The Council is also instructing members of the media to sign in (i.e. register so that “they” know who “we” are) before attending their meetings. As reason for its interfering with the press, the Council resorts to the tired canard that it is attempting “to respect the privacy of any members of the public who may attend …”
The Council’s action against the media is, of course, ludicrous — and has nothing to do with ensuring the “privacy” of people who are attending a public meeting in a public space with the opportunity of influencing public policy, and has everything to do with “control” over what journalists (not just the Compass) are able to report or photograph about the Council’s doings to the wider public at large.
In summary, in just about a year the Council has added the following items to Cayman’s “endangered list”: the divisions of power between elected ministers, appointed civil servants and unelected activists; the Westminster tenet of “Cabinet collective responsibility”; freedom of the press; and, open government in the sunshine.
And they’ve barely gotten started.