“If elected, the first thing I’m going to do is get that Ritch Report published.”
– Red Bay candidate Denniston Tibbetts, Cayman Democratic Party
“[I]t would not be in the public interest for ‘the advice’ to be disclosed.”
– Red Bay candidate and Premier Alden McLaughlin, Progressives, December 2016
Elections are about choices. Choices are about contrast. And in this election – where candidates’ views tend to overlap on the vast majority of issues, such as the importance of education and the scourge of local unemployment – here is a topic where, between two candidates, there could not be a greater contrast.
Simply put: Mr. Tibbetts wants the Ritch Report to be made public; Premier McLaughlin does not.
Since receiving the report early last year by law firm Ritch & Conolly on the Cayman Islands’ system of permanent residence, Premier Alden McLaughlin has fought tooth and nail to resist sharing the contents of the report, which cost $312,000 of taxpayer funds. Premier McLaughlin claims the report constitutes “privileged” legal advice, an assertion that Chief Justice Anthony Smellie accepted in court. Shortly thereafter, Governor Helen Kilpatrick unilaterally blocked any appeal to a higher court of the Chief Justice’s ruling.
While we (obviously) have not read the report, we presume top officials have compelling (but not convincing) motivations to prevent the wider public from reading the report. Namely, we believe the Ritch Report is part-autopsy and part-playbook – containing a comprehensive critique of the shortcomings in Cayman’s current and possibly past immigration regimes, as well as a road map to how individuals who have been wronged by Cayman’s government could successfully seek restitution. With local and international courts entertaining the possibility of monetary awards for immigration-related damages, the entire situation could quickly get very, very expensive for Cayman’s taxpayers.
If true, the above may, to officials, seem reason enough to withhold release of the Ritch Report at all costs. Our perspective is the opposite. We think of ourselves as fiscal hawks, but of far greater importance than safeguarding the public treasury is protecting the rights of individuals – regardless of their immigration status.
Any tax-funded report that points out flaws in our laws or governmental procedures should be produced as an illuminating beacon for Cayman’s public, not hoarded as a secret by Cayman’s government.
As Mr. Tibbetts’ comment illustrates, even if the Ritch Report does indeed contain legally privileged advice and so is exempt from disclosure under open records legislation, that does not in any way prevent Premier McLaughlin and his government from voluntarily relinquishing that privilege, and publishing the report. That is, if they wanted to … but they don’t.
Expanding upon the relatively narrow topic of the Ritch Report, apart from the personalities of their respective leaders – on the one hand, McKeeva Bush of the Cayman Democratic Party, and on the other Premier McLaughlin (and before him, Kurt Tibbetts) of the Progressives – the singular issue that has differentiated Cayman’s two major parties is their approach to immigration.
Speaking generally, when the Progressives are in power, rules around immigration (particularly people gaining Caymanian status or permanent residence) tend to be tightened, and when the CDP is in power, those rules are relaxed (sometimes under legal duress).
The past four years have borne out that pattern, as no applicants have been awarded PR under the system implemented by the Progressives in October 2013, which has generated a backlog of about 1,000 applicants whose status is in legal limbo.
During last week’s Red Bay candidate forum, Premier McLaughlin acknowledged the problems with the immigration situation created by his government. He promised that pursuing a remedy would be a top priority if the Progressives were returned to power, and also pledged (as he did four years ago) that the Progressives would create a new authority to divorce the processing of work permits from the Immigration Department.
We agree with Premier McLaughlin that Cayman’s broken PR system is in a grievous condition requiring immediate redress. We also see the merit in separating work permits (which is really an economic or employment function) from the immigration process (which is a law enforcement or security function).
That being said … promises, promises.
To quote Denniston Tibbetts, “It’s four years on now and it’s not been done.”