West Bay candidates in the May 24 election demanded more influence for the National Security Council and oversight of police activities.
In a debate Wednesday that focused on crime and gangs, Paul Rivers, independent candidate in West Bay West, said there needs to be more accountability on the part of the police. Mr. Rivers said he had witnessed “police being inadequate in their duties,” whether through insufficient foot and bicycle patrols, non-action in the face of obvious crimes like the consumption of ganja in public, or not having a rapport with the public.
The National Security Council has so far played an insignificant role, he said, but asked, “If the security council is not securing, what is its purpose?”
West Bay South candidate Tara Rivers said there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the security council’s role which, under the Constitution, has only an advisory function. To gain more control, legislators would need to change the Constitution – a change she supports, Ms. Rivers said.
She said she volunteered to be a member of the council to have direct contact with the commissioner of police and the governor to advocate on issues of policing.
Ms. Rivers said she is prepared to enter into negotiations with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to give the National Security Council more influence because she “sees the shortcomings of not having the direct ability to affect operations or at least give more than just advice.”
However, this should not mean involvement in the minute details of police operations nor elected officials trying to take on the role of commissioner of police, because they are not qualified to do so, she added.
Candidates suggested different solutions to tackle the prevalence of gangs in the islands. John Jefferson Jr., running in West Bay South, blamed the public education system for the gang problem. The Cayman Democratic Party candidate said Minister for Education Ms. Rivers, his political opponent in the district, “tries to pretty up” the issue, but there is “total chaos” in the schools. To solve the gang problem, the public school system has to be improved, he said.
Ms. Rivers responded that in only one year there has been “a drastic drop” in severe incidents at John Gray High School. She noted that Cayman’s youth need to be taught how to deal with conflict, and her ministry has set conflict resolution as a top priority. To break the cycle of violence, she also advocated counseling for the victims of crime.
Mervin Smith, independent candidate in West Bay North, said it is important to address the appeal of gangs, whose members tend to be popular in school or in the clubs. “We got to educate,” he said. “Children must understand what a family structure is. Take them to church early.”
Mr. Rivers hit the same note, saying, “The best shield and deterrent is to strengthen the minds of our youth,” which starts at home. The parents and other family members have to take responsibility to arm youngsters mentally to withstand peer pressure.
Katherine Ebanks-Wilks, an independent candidate for West Bay Central, highlighted the Cayman Islands Youth Development Consortium, which focuses on at-risk youth. “We need to address what happens to these children when they come out of school,” because parents do not take care of them. Providing resources for children and after-school programs are ways to keep the children out of the company that facilitates gangs, she said.
When asked whether the decriminalization of ganja would be a solution, none of the candidates supported the idea.
Mr. Smith said expunging criminal records for ganja possession is a good thing, but legalizing ganja would just lead to more people consuming it. Mr. Jefferson added that it is amazing how widespread drug use in the islands already is, even among employed people who have the habit of ganja consumption.
Candidates had divided opinions on the question of term limits for those holding public office.
Mr. Rivers argued that eight to 12 years should be the maximum for legislators because career politicians have manipulated the political system and the voting public. “We would be more successful as a people with term limits.”
Mr. Smith agreed, saying that term limits are absolutely necessary. Their absence is the cause of “social engineering in this country,” with “some individuals on government stipends,” he said.
Mr. Jefferson disagreed by stating that elections already constitute a term limit for politicians, if the voters so choose.
Ms. Rivers said there should be term limits, but at the same time a new generation of leaders must be prepared to take over the mantle. “Leadership is not an easy thing,” she said.