Government struggles with delays

With the Cayman Islands government’s 2016/17 budget approval process looming, lawmakers remained uncertain whether the Legislative Assembly would meet again prior to the annual May-June opening session and finance committee review.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said Monday that while government is only constitutionally required to hold one assembly meeting each year, it was his hope to get another meeting together before the budget process begins. However, the premier acknowledged current circumstances were causing some delays.

“The government simply isn’t ready for a Legislative Assembly meeting right now,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “There are important bills which are being worked on and are not yet ready for presentation. The defection of three members has also delayed some of government’s work.”

With a bare minimum nine-member government bench, the Progressives-led government is also struggling somewhat with timing.

“Given the reduced numbers, I have to ensure that every member of the government is present for each day’s sitting of the House,” he said. “Ministers’ travel also has to be taken into consideration.”

Asked Monday whether he would still seek to call for an early election during 2016, Premier McLaughlin was non-committal. Governor Helen Kilpatrick has confirmed that it would be up to her and the premier to decide on an early election, if the premier were to seek such an option.

In any case, the general election – whenever it occurs – will be held under a new voting system with 19 single-member constituencies. Where voters in the larger districts had been accustomed to voting up to four or even six times for their favored candidates, in the next election all voters will be able to cast just one ballot.

The Cayman Islands Elections Office is embarking on an island-wide education campaign in preparation for the upcoming election changes, which Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell expects will take about a year to implement. Mr. Howell said a year-round voter registration is open and the elections office would hold a number of public voter registration drives, the first of which occurred at the Agriculture Show last month.

However, if a sudden election or by-election is called, this would not provide any additional time for voter registration, the elections office noted.

“Thus, only persons already on the official list of electors [voters list] will be able to vote,” a statement from the office read. “The elections office is … encouraging persons to register now.”

As of the latest check, in January, voter registration numbers in Cayman had declined since the May 2013 general election. As of Jan. 1, 2016, the number of registered voters stood at 18,271. That’s down from 18,323 in January 2015 and 18,466 in January 2014.
Elections Law changes

Mr. Howell said in January that time requirements to properly hold a general election under the new single-member district voting system would not be met if the elections are to be held in the coming months.

“The new single-member constituencies and revised boundaries will require significant public awareness and education so that voters are clear on where they will be voting and how to vote in the polls,” Mr. Howell said.

Extra time will be needed, he said, to train returning officers who manage the elections process and to verify voters’ addresses and other such routine details.

In addition, with the Legislative Assembly uncertain on when it will be meeting, it’s not clear when legislators will approve certain technical amendments to Cayman’s Elections Law to bring it into line with 19 single-member districts, giving effect to the 2015 recommendations of the Electoral Boundary Commission.

The revised Elections Law is expected to be considered by Cabinet this month. Lawmakers anticipate approving the changes in the House before July.