After the members of the ruling Cayman Islands government refused to attend an emergency meeting of the Legislative Assembly convened at the behest of independent and opposition lawmakers, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller declared that democracy in the Cayman Islands was “under threat.”
On the contrary: The majority defusing the efforts of the minority does not threaten democracy — it is an example of democracy working as intended.
As Mr. Miller and fellow independent East End MLA Arden McLean well know, Cayman’s government is a parliamentary democracy. That means our country holds a general election, and the winners from each district choose sides, with the majority party (or coalition) forming the ruling government until the next election. During that time, in Cayman, just as in Westminster, the ruling government rules, and the Opposition opposes — it certainly does not dictate.
From a procedural standpoint, it appears that the government’s actions were entirely appropriate — even overly accommodating.
Here’s what happened: The eight minority members banded together to call a meeting of the Legislative Assembly, on the management and conduct of police. Accordingly, Speaker Juliana O’Connor-Connolly attempted to convene the meeting on the morning of Wednesday, April 13. The problem was, the eight minority members did not constitute a quorum — the number needed to actually conduct any business — which in this case would be 10 of the 18 members of the Legislative Assembly. A member of the ruling government raised an objection, and the meeting could not be held.
In other words, the minority was unable to piece together a majority, and so the meeting never happened. End of story.
Think of the consequences that could arise in the alternative; if a minority group of lawmakers could call a meeting of the Legislative Assembly and then conduct business — pass laws, motions, regulations, etc. — whenever a handful of majority lawmakers happen to be off-island for vacation or official reasons.
(For example, last Wednesday, Minister Wayne Panton and George Town MLA Joey Hew happened to be away from Cayman … which would have left the oppositions and independents with a transitory eight-to-seven “majority” for the day.)
That aside, the particular motions that the minority coalition wanted to discuss are anything but substantial. One calls for a declaration of a “lack of confidence” in police management, and for a Caymanian to be appointed to lead the police. The second calls for an independent review of the police response to the situation of the five missing boaters.
Both motions have already been addressed in one form or another. Police Commissioner David Baines is leaving Cayman at the end of May, and a new chief is being recruited. (We hope and trust that the new commissioner will be the best person for the job — period.) In regard to the missing boaters, Governor Helen Kilpatrick has already agreed to commission an outside inquiry.
Nevertheless, Premier Alden McLaughlin has promised to hear both of those motions during the next regularly scheduled sitting of the House beginning next Monday, April 25.
What, pray tell, is the “emergency” compelling the emergency meeting?
The Speaker and the Premier are obliged to follow the rules of the Legislative Assembly. They are under no obligation to facilitate political grandstanding by minority MLAs eager to wrap themselves in the mantle of “parliamentary privilege.”
What we find troubling is the presumption of power by Messrs. Miller and McLean, who, remember, represent the two least-populated districts on Grand Cayman and garnered the fewest number of votes out of anyone sitting in the House.
Can you imagine if Mr. Miller (326 votes) or Mr. McLean (317 votes) were allowed to dictate the actions of a parliamentary body representing a jurisdiction of some 60,000 people?
Indeed, the most serious transgression against democracy by Premier McLaughlin (who, by the way, received 2,145 votes in 2013) might be his support for a “one man, one vote” scheme that enshrines East End and North Side as two distinct districts, despite each containing about half the number of voters as any other district on Grand Cayman.
Come to think of it: If the members from North Side and East End are an indication of how Cayman may be governed after the implementation of one man, one vote in the upcoming election … then perhaps our democracy isn’t entirely free from threats, after all.