The territory’s Constitutional Commission is calling for the creation of “Advisory District Councils” to act as intermediaries between elected representatives and their constituents. This is one call that lawmakers should let ring, and ring, and ring … without picking up.
Back in 2011, when current Premier Alden McLaughlin was Leader of the Opposition, he put the kibosh on a legislative proposal by then-Premier McKeeva Bush (now Speaker of the House) to create the advisory councils. At the time, Mr. McLaughlin’s PPM party argued the councils would serve as political props for Mr. Bush’s United Democratic Party.
As recent history teaches us, politics not only makes strange bedfellows, but also makes for strange politics. Somehow, the advisory council idea crept into the 2017 election manifesto of Premier McLaughlin’s party, now with the idea of giving each council a budget and spending authority “to fix the small irritants in their communities that matter most to them and which may be overlooked by central government or simply take too long to correct.”
Small irritants? Have we turned into a country of complainers? Already in place are the roles of a “complaints commissioner” (the post is currently vacant), an “information commissioner,” a “human rights commissioner,” and let’s not forget the “anti-corruption commissioner.” On top of all that, when citizens have a “small irritant,” they are best advised to take it up with the department – we have dozens of them – that may themselves be doing the irritating. Last week, we welcomed the island’s first “ombudsman,” Sandy Hermiston, who will try to make some sense of all this.
Premier McLaughlin was correct back in 2011. He should flop back from this recent flip.
Supporters of the councils say they will make the 19 MLAs more accountable to the public. We support the goal, but not the proposed means. We highly doubt that “greater accountability” will be achieved by creating yet another level of government.
How much government do Caymanians want? Perhaps that is the wrong question. We will rephrase it. How much government do Caymanians need?
Already, the Cayman Islands are awash in legislators (who are awash in portfolios), chief officers, councils, commissions, consultants, tribunals, working groups, dozens and dozens of boards, thousands of civil servants, more than 20 “statutory authorities,” a bunch of government-owned money-losing businesses and other assorted collections of committees and advisory bodies.
Adding another variety of appointed (i.e., unelected) citizen panels (especially ones with money to spend) would constitute at best useless appendages and at worst breeding grounds for parochialism and insularity.
Certainly, district councils would add a “protective layer” distancing elected representatives, who don’t need to be protected, from their voters. It would further shift the focus of the body politic in two undesirable directions – inward and divided along lines of artificial “mini-districts,” rather than the ideal – outward and unified.
We do not have hordes of people in the Cayman Islands – perhaps 65,000. Our 19 members of the Legislative Assembly in 2017 stood before 21,226 registered voters, only about 18,400 of whom actually cast ballots.
For perspective, the average U.S. congressman represents 450,000 registered voters. The average U.K. parliamentary constituency contains about 70,000 eligible voters. And in the Cayman Islands, elected members, on average, represent about 1,100 potential voters in their home “mini-districts.” (Some have far fewer: North Side and East End are each home to about 700 voters; Cayman Brac East has about 500.)
Given the nature and culture of our islands, elected representatives are on a first-name basis with many, if not most, of their constituents. They interact with them regularly in churches, watering holes, supermarkets, and at petrol pumps. And let’s not forget the “constituent offices” that elected members lease (at taxpayers’ expense) and political party headquarters.
In particle physics, we certainly know what “matter” is, and we think we know what “anti-matter” is, which leads us to this question:
Is it possible that Cayman can possibly have more government “representatives” than we have people? It certainly appears we’re headed in that direction.