EDITORIAL – Ensuring our elections are transparent and corruption-free

The election season is now well under way in the Cayman Islands, and so is the quadrennial whisper campaign about unseemly quid pro quo arrangements between candidates and residents, trading cash, favors or goods for votes. One way or another, it needs to stop. Cayman’s elections should be, in fact and in perception, a process that is clean, fair, ethical and without a whiff of undue influence or corruption.

Although this will not appear on the government’s permanent residence quiz, almost everyone is familiar with the lore of how elections “really” work in Cayman: Air conditioners, refrigerators and turkey giveaways rule the roost (so to speak).

Frankly, we have no credible evidence that blatant vote-buying is the rule in Cayman. If we are provided with any, we will publish it.

(By the way, giving away refrigerators would have to be the least cost-effective method of securing votes. Even at A.L. Thompson’s superstore, a Whirlpool refrigerator carries a cost of $1,100 or more!)

The mere absence of verification, however, does not remove the potential toxicity of rumors. If such voter tampering does exist, it needs to be identified and prosecuted. (Despite a search of the Compass archives and brain-mining of our most senior reporters as well as conversations with “old-timers” in the community, we cannot identify even one case in Cayman’s entire history of a successful prosecution for an electoral offense.)

Nevertheless, our election supervisor would be well-advised to clarify and make public once and for all what is allowed – and what is not – during campaigns.

For example, is it acceptable for candidates to dip into their private resources and distribute gifts, aid or emoluments to their constituents? At what point does apparent compassion become obvious inducement to cast a ballot for a particular candidate?

Even more concerning than the above hypothetical is the recent situation that materialized around the Progressives handing out tickets to last weekend’s Manny Pacquiao-hosted boxing event.

The Progressives’ free ticket giveaway was not simply a matter of politicians dipping into their personal pockets and distributing goodies. Instead, it was a case where $20,000 of public taxpayer money was spent to sponsor an event; in exchange, the government was given a number of tickets to the event. Then the Progressives disseminated the tickets to chosen recipients, under the auspices of Minister Osbourne Bodden and Minister Wayne Panton of Bodden Town. Put another way, at some point, taxpayer funds were translated into a political party’s gifts.

Thus far, the Progressives’ endeavors to ensuring fair elections has largely consisted of announcing that they will be double-checking the addresses of voters to make sure they are casting ballots in the appropriate district. While that certainly is worthwhile, would it not be even more valuable to crack down on alleged vote-buying, or better yet, to put sharper teeth in the Elections Law?

Another example: As it stands now, political parties, candidates and supporters are not held accountable for any election expenses that occur more than six weeks before Election Day. That is a loophole large enough to drive a Brink’s truck through.

While it is vital that the letter of the law is adhered to, there is a difference between merely abiding by a mediocre or inadequate law, and raising the quality of the law itself. The voters in Cayman deserve for our elections to be administered according to the highest possible standard.