Handouts to voters: Charity or vote buying?

Freshman MLA Winston Connolly is one of three Cayman Islands lawmakers supported by the Coalition For Cayman. Mr. Connolly is one of six representatives elected from the district of George Town. He’s one of 11 members of the Progressives-led government.

But when it comes to standing up in the Legislative Assembly against the practice of “vote buying,” Mr. Connolly — unable to muster support from his colleagues to introduce systemic reforms — stands alone.

Proverbially speaking, Mr. Connolly flung the first rock at this beehive back in May, saying, “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.”

He continued, “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?”

Judging by the ensuing consternation among Cayman’s political class, Mr. Connolly’s aim was true. (For our part, we said at the time in an editorial: “If Diogenes is still looking for an honest man, tell him to stop. We have found him.”)

Mr. Connolly took another shot at the topic in October, during discussions over “one man, one vote.” He said, “I saw firsthand during the last election, money being handed out. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking elections can’t be bought.”

The government approved the implementation of “one man, one vote” — specifically, transitioning to a system of 19 single-member voting districts — for the 2017 election, but without Mr. Connolly’s proposals to outlaw vote buying and to enact term limits for legislators. Not only were Mr. Connolly’s ideas not adopted, apparently they were not even given serious consideration.

Responding to Mr. Connolly’s concerns, Premier Alden McLaughlin said, “In my experience … you don’t buy any elections. You may influence a few votes here or there … but you don’t buy elections.”

Ponder Mr. McLaughlin’s statement, which we think is a concise summation of the conventional wisdom prevailing among both of Cayman’s major political parties.

As Mr. Connolly rightfully points out, fostering an informal system of political patronage — where individuals obtain assistance by directly lobbying elected representatives — subverts legitimately structured public assistance programs and thwarts their intent, which ideally should be to empower people to break free from dependence on others … not addict them to it.

Last week in the House, Mr. Connolly reiterated his concerns about vote buying and expressed his disappointment about the lack of support from his colleagues.

He said that when politicians decide who gets handouts and who doesn’t, such “charity” could be seen as “corruption.”

He said, “That could easily turn from one ‘c’ word to another.”

We have received a considerable feedback on Mr. Connolly’s remarks. Many of our readers agree with him. Many don’t.

One of our regular commenters was particularly, and characteristically, candid. She said the anti-vote buying motion would “cut [Mr. Connolly’s] voting popularity in half with the people.”

She said people look forward to the “turkey, ham or fruit basket at Christmas, or a $50 food card now and then.”

She said, “There are people who need that, and they deserve it, and I do not call it vote buying.”

Suggesting lawmakers start saving now for the goodies they’ll soon be giving away to voters, our commenter said, “Come 2017, politicians will be crawling up people’s front door for that one ‘X’ that can get them in. … The ‘X’s’ have never been free.”

Really? Our view is that in a free society, the “X’s” must always be free. Anything else is too high a price to pay.

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  1. I fully support MLA Winston Connolly in his push to change the handout culture. That being said, the reality that nobody wants to talk about is fact that people understand and have seen first hand that there is no true representational politics taking place in the Cayman Islands and that irrespective of who gets elected the government will always be largely controlled and directed by some of our more wealthy, powerful and influential lobby groups and individuals.

    Most politicians or prospective politicians are hungry for power and control and for the benefits that come along with being a politician. Many people know this and also know that their vote won’t actually result in any true form of political representation. It is because of this reality that a small minority of people see their vote as essentially a form of contract/agreement whereby they give an individual or group power and control (they give their vote) in exchange for a little help when needed.

    This is not unique to the Cayman Islands and will only start to change for the better when politicians decided to actually represent the people within their respective constituencies instead of just looking out for themselves, some wealthy individuals, and some of the special interest groups within the country.

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  2. It is interesting to look back at the May 2013 report by the Election Observers.

    Part of that reads – The Mission received numerous allegations of widespread vote buying during the campaign by different candidates and political parties. However, according to the Police, no official report has been filed in this regard. Unlike during the previous elections, the Caymanian authorities, namely the Police Service, Anti-Corruption Commission and Elections Office took active approach and launched a media awareness campaign including a confidential reporting line to prevent and fight against any illegal practices of distribution of money, goods or other benefits in exchange for potential votes.

    Even considering the fact that the team of observers were only on island for a few days prior to the election and at least one of them came from a country with its own vote buying problems, that statement seems to rather conveniently side-step the issue.

    I suspect Mr Connolly is not just banging heads with his fellow MLAs here but also delving into areas the RCIPS, the FCO and the Governors Office would rather see left well alone.

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  3. Being a "Green Horn Politician", and a "Veteran Political watch dog" is very different. One can have a seat in the House and know nothing at all about what go on in politics on the streets of Cayman, whereby the other do not have a seat; but can debate on any subject because they have been "listening and watching".
    People do not buy elections; however be honest and ask yourselves how some politicians get elected every four years, no matter how you try to keep them out.
    every year, Poor people will get a Turkey, Ham or a fruit Basket at Christmas with a 25.00 or 50.00 food card. IS THIS VOTE BUYING, OR A CHARITY HAND OUT, YOU BE THE JUDGE.
    When we talk about vote buying this is what takes place: Two to four popular guys of the Towns are selected by all TEAMS, These selections "Buyers I will call them" they already have money, but they wants more. But they are popular and they are approached to garner in votes. They are either paid a sizeable check in the high-up thousands; A new Truck or car, Government buys their property for three times what it is worth or or leases their property for donkey years.
    Now election year, that "Buyer" has a big job to garner votes from the poor and needy. Six months prior to election, every now and then, while knowing who to visit, buys a six pack of 345 only costing him 5.00 a six pack, gives out a 5 and 10 dollar for top up on phone card. Drives around with a bag full of 10 and 25 dollar phone cards and give them out same way.
    IS THAT VOTE BUYING, THEN YOU BE THE JUDGE.
    Folks, NOTHING, has changed from back then, where by people got a little stipend for their support. It has always been so, for ever. Only change is that the "Stakes" have become higher, and the little man who give you their vote does not receive anything to brag about. Only the "Buyers/Sellers" in this game become richer every year.
    Besides majority of disagree ticks are the persons who either do not vote or they are the "Big Sellers/Buyers"
    Most people do not want to hear the truth, they prefer to be stimulated by a lie, so they will not agree with my truth.
    And honestly speaking I have heard people cursed and rant and rage about voting for "Lucky politicians" who they cannot even say "Good morning" to the day after election. They get "High Chested" Mean look on their face, Tint their truck windows, Take short cuts to Town, Change their phone numbers, dye grey hair and moustache black, Put up high fence or Move out of Town and the list go on. SO YOU TELL ME DOES ALL OF THAT DESERVE VOTE BUYING.

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  4. Hand out, Charity, or vote buying what ever we want to call it will always go on so everyone might as well get used to it. Just the fact remains that the question is WHO GAINS FROM IT? " Just a Few of those who already have it, and those same persons continue to control the politicians after they get a seat, Still controlling side money."
    In places like Jamaica and Honduras to name a few the same thing go on. So Cayman is no exception.
    I will stick to my opinion, nothing is for free. Do a survey and find out how many people feel they should give politicians a free X.

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  5. I know that handouts has been around for a very long time, and it is vote buying. This is a very dangerous issue in todays political world. Let’s just look at one with a lot money , and a lot of powerful people with lots money behind him or her, that can be a lot of vote buying, and not knowing his or her agenda after being elected can be very dangerous . I agree with Mr Connolly that it should be done away with. Then if politicians don’t want to stop , then they should have to do vote buying all year long out of their own pockets to all that voted for him or her.

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  6. The argument that something has always occurred so we might as well learn to accept it is by far the worst argument I’ve ever heard. You can say the same thing about literally any other undesirable action. Corruption, rape, murder? Eh, they’ve always happened and always will so we might as well get used to it.
    That argument is only slightly worse than the argument that it occurs in Jamaica and Honduras so it’s acceptable here.

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  7. @Ron – Technically it’s the love of money; not money itself. But I agree with you.

    @Twyla – I guess if it will always happen we should just accept it and not try to weed the corruption out, right? As far as who gains from it, the politicians do, they are LITERALLY paying people to vote for them – whether in the form of cash, gift cards, or holiday meals. This corrupt practice undermines the foundations of the democratic process.

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  8. Ms Vargas, asked the question "who gains from it". The politican pays $1,000 to voters gets him/her elected, him or her has $10,000 per month job, who’s gained here, and has power and opportunity to get more. If we can not except the fact that vote buying is wrong and corrupt, then what you all should do is to ask for $10,000 for your votes. Then maybe that would stop it.

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  9. If it is vote buying for a politician to give a voter money for food, what do we call it when politicians receive money to help them get elected? Are people naive enough to believe the people giving politicians money don’t want something in return?

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  10. I think we should take a deeper look at vote buying and not confine it to politicians. There are people who stand to gain or lose a lot of money if a certain politician or group of politicians should get elected; therefore don’t be surprised if these moneyed people use some of it to influence voters. In this instance we could find that the politician is left out of the loop ,and these wealthy individuals have their own operatives employed with handing out turkeys, hams etc,supposedly as a charitable act but I am sure that the persons receiving these gifts will be told who to vote for or against ,to keep the goodies coming. Now some of these vote buying companies or individual also use people of significant influence to get the vote out,(such as pastors, small business owners, radio or tv personalities/operators or newspaper editors/reporters). We can see from this that actual vote buying by politicians is likely at the bottom of the totem pole,and that influence peddling/vote buying is a big game played by ”big fish” and not necessarily politicians. Have you ever wondered whether a certain media house or personality has been hired to promote someone else agenda? Vote buying/influencing maybe?

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  11. This is another of those discussions that is becoming bizarre!
    Democracy is perverted by vote buying. Giving cash, goods, or services in the expectation of a vote is vote buying. Its that simple!
    Then comes the issue of politicians benefitting financially from their position. It seems that some people expect it, others see nothing wrong in it. It is wrong, because from it flows corruption.
    Think of say, a major government contract. Imagine how it would be if the minister concerned required a fee from the contractor? Yes, unthinkable and it couldn’t happen here, but say he did, contracts would not be awarded in the best interests of the community, and the cost would be greater by the percentage he took.
    So reading the suggestion that your X must be worth something is frankly sad!

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  12. @ Leon Fishman

    That is an interesting point. You could also add reference to those employers who put pressure on their workers to vote for a particular candidate or party.

    As to whether or not the politicians involved know it is going on? You can be certain they know about it. These are small islands, you cannot hide something like that for long.

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