2017 editorials: The Compass’s voice on significant issues

Premier-elect Alden McLaughlin, left, signs another agreement with prospective Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush Monday outside the Government Administration Building. The two agreed, for a second time, to form a coalition government following days of intense meetings. - Photo: Taneos Ramsay

The Compass editorial is an institutional opinion that reflects discussions among our editorial board.

Today we feature highlights from some of what we consider to be the most compelling and important editorials that appeared in the Cayman Compass in 2017, dealing with some of the most pressing matters facing our country.

Jan 3: ‘Project Future’: A progress report (minus the progress)

Toward the close of the year, the government published a “Project Future Update Report November 2016,” following a similar update report from May. After perusing the document, we can only assume the reason the government didn’t call it a “progress report” is because there is so little progress to report.… Over the past year, the government has managed to complete three “projects,” while 41 are in some stage of review or implementation, and eight have been put on hold.

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Jan. 9: Cayman’s first fatal police shooting since …

In regard to Friday’s shooting death of 34-year-old Norval Barrett, a Jamaican national who had returned to Cayman illegally after being convicted of robbery here six years ago, we know that it is the first fatal shooting of a suspect by RCIPS officers since at least the 1980s, according to Deputy Commissioner Anthony Ennis.… Time and again, our officers have demonstrated incredible restraint from using their firearms, even in cases where they would be justified in declaring they felt their lives were in danger.

Jan. 16: Haunted house: ‘Ghost Caymanians’ and PR limbo

Just about everyone in the Cayman Islands has heard stories about duppies. Some may actually believe in them, too. We can assure you that yes, here in Cayman, “ghosts” do walk among us … But not in the supernatural sense.

What we are referring to are “ghost Caymanians” – hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who were born in Cayman, have Caymanian parents, possess a Cayman passport and believe they are Caymanian. But they don’t legally have Caymanian status.…

Make no mistake: Premier McLaughlin and the Progressives are responsible for the current PR morass. They created it through legislation. They exacerbated it through delay. They own it. But Cayman will pay for it.

Feb. 14: Beach vendors’ victory: Government caves on unlicensed operators

We can safely say that after a years-long battle between the government and a handful of beach vendors, we can finally declare a winner: the beach vendors.…

If the beach vendors can conduct business without paying costs for permits, planning permission, healthcare, pensions or insurance, why should any of their legally operating competitors, who are also trying to sell goods and provide services to tourists, follow the expensive and often-onerous rules? If the beach vendors are being given a blanket exemption from regulations, why should any business in Cayman attempt to abide by the letter of the law? Why should any individual in their daily life?

March 29: Kurt Tibbetts retires: Saluting a titan of Cayman politics

During the 21st century, the narrative of our country’s electoral system has been largely defined by the continuous combat between [Kurt] Tibbetts – with his even-keeled and genial demeanor, leading the People’s Progressive Movement party he founded – and West Bay lawmaker McKeeva Bush and his Cayman Democratic Party (formerly the United Democratic Party).

Both were lions, equally fearless, in battling each other, but also, and probably more importantly, battling for their constituencies and the causes they believed in. Their rivalry made for good theater, often played out on the stage of the Legislative Assembly.

Those who know Mr. Tibbetts, and especially those who have engaged in conflict with him, can attest that no matter how fierce and formidable a foe he might be on matters of policy, when it comes to personal relationships, he always comports himself as a true gentleman.

April 3: Permanent residence: The Progressives’ explosive legacy

On the last day of February this year, the Progressives Cabinet made long-overdue changes to immigration regulations, with the promise that the backlog of 900-plus permanent residence applications would finally be cleared.…

The changes Cabinet made to the Immigration Law in February were probably informed by the 2016 report from Ritch & Conolly. In regard to statements about the “Ritch Report,” we employ qualifiers such as “presumably” and “probably” out of necessity – because neither we, nor anyone else outside of Premier Alden McLaughlin and a small circle of officials, knows what the report actually says.…

April 20: How much has gov’t spent on the John Gray gym?

In mid-February, government officials – including Minister [Tara] Rivers, Ministry of Education Chief Officer Christen Suckoo and George Town MLA Joey Hew – were eager to “show off” the new gymnasium.

They were happy to pose for a nice “photo op,” to note that the new gym would be ready in time for May final exams, and to promise that the construction project would come in under budget.

As to what exactly that budget is, however, they remain less than forthcoming. Senior project manager Jonathan Matthews described the costs as “confidential,” while Chief Officer Suckoo said, “Let’s not belabor this, OK?”

No one should ever be “OK” with government attempting to deflect, obscure or shield information about how public officials are spending public money.

May 2: $1.7 billion health debt: The public sector crisis everyone saw coming

Hear that train whistle off in the distance? A $1.7 billion locomotive – representing the Cayman Islands government’s healthcare liability – is approaching, slowly but inexorably. The alarm has been sounding for years, but our officials, it seems, continue to snooze in the middle of the tracks.

A similar valuation exercise completed in mid-2014 estimated the government’s 20-year healthcare liability (the amount of money the government expects to pay out for healthcare coverage for retired civil servants, veterans and seamen) to be $1.18 billion. The newly released valuation pegs that figure at $1.7 billion as of the end of June 2016. That means that over the span of two years, the already-astounding liability grew by an eye-popping, jaw-dropping $500 million.…

May 25: One Man, One Vote: Lessons learned from the election

As soon as the Progressives administration approved the switch to 19 single-member constituencies, we (and everyone else with a pencil and scratch pad) could foretell that the vote totals of winning candidates would be ridiculously minuscule. So they were: North Side MLA Ezzard Miller won with 201 votes; Cayman Brac East MLA Juliana O’Connor-Connolly won with 225 votes; and East End MLA Arden McLean won with 272 votes.

A more important (and eye-popping) point than the “magnitude” of the voting totals is the razor-thinness of candidates’ margins of victory.…

Carving up the country in the name of one man, one vote is a symbolic, practical and political act of division and divisiveness – one which our insular territory can ill afford.

Instead of making Cayman’s districts smaller, more numerous and more inward-facing, officials should have done the opposite: Make the entirety of the Cayman Islands one single district, and allow residents to vote on the same slate of candidates.

June 8: Running the country: Cayman’s new ‘management team’

Being in the news business, we understand a thing or two about assignments. And, as is the case with the governmental responsibilities given to Cayman Islands ministers, we know daunting ones when we see them.

In the Compass newsroom, our assignments are typically of a daily nature.… The ones doled out to the seven members of Cabinet on Tuesday, on the other hand, are four-year commitments. While that may seem like a lengthy tenure – given the complexity, range and diversity of each minister’s portfolio, encompassing many hundreds of personnel and millions of dollars – a mere four years seems hardly time enough to get one’s bearings, much less to create, issue and carry out most executive decisions, not to mention visionary initiatives for these islands.…

The sheer magnitude of the public sector – and the policy and management oversight it requires – seems to be an inevitable product of Cayman’s system of government and the vast number of functions and services it has accumulated. It also seems inevitable that, with so many responsibilities, ministers will be compelled to prioritize their portfolios and where they will allocate their time and deploy their available resources. The challenge requires managerial acrobatics worthy of the Flying Wallendas.…

June 13: Exotic pet peeve: Clarity needed on animal smuggling

Some might consider the small possum known as a sugar glider to be harmless – even cute. But there is nothing benign about the illegal importation of exotic animals into the Cayman Islands.

That’s why officials must be more forthcoming about the ongoing investigation into the alleged smuggling of a sugar glider on a Cayman Airways flight from Miami, which led to the discovery of a veritable menagerie of non-native reptiles and snakes at a Grand Cayman property.…

How did a contraband animal find its way onto a Cayman Airways jet? Common sense tells us the smugglers either found a way to beat airport security in Miami or they enlisted the help of someone there.

July 12: Testing our commitment to quality education

… According to figures released to the Cayman Compass in response to a Freedom of Information Request, of the 189 CIFEC students who retook their math exams in 2016, only 13 – 7 percent – achieved a “level 2 pass” (the equivalent of a “C” or 2.0 in the American grading system).

… Cayman’s government schools must aim much higher – and perform far better.

A highly effective school system that holds students to high standards and yields excellent results is a necessity, not a luxury. Literacy, numeracy and critical thinking are fundamental life skills regardless of future profession, but they take on an even greater importance in a country such as ours, where employment opportunities and workforce readiness are in structural misalignment.…

Even if these most recent test results are an aberration (and we don’t understand how such an aberration could come about), they signify an opportunity missed.

July 24: Police should have no role in the ‘Brawl on the Brac’

Like the magnetic attraction of a schoolyard melee, we are drawn inexorably to the ongoing brawl on the Brac.

We refer, of course, to the long-standing and escalating battle between artist/sculptor Ronald Kynes (better known as “Foots”) and, well, nearly everyone else, including his neighbors, preachers and pastors, politicians, and, most recently, the police who arrested Mr. Kynes last week for the “obscene publication” of his artwork.…

We certainly do not subscribe to the popular nostrum that it is a worthwhile objective of an artist to create primarily in order to shock – and most artists, of course, do not. But Foots does.

Should he do so? Probably not.

Does he have a right to do so? Almost certainly he does.

July 27: What should Cayman do about Jackson Point?

At the top of everyone’s mind this week – for obvious reasons – are the fuel tanks at Jackson Point. Over the decades, homes and businesses have grown up around this critical, yet potentially combustible facility. The South Church Street area will soon see further development, including, as reported in today’s Compass, a new 36-unit luxury condo complex called Fin.

We don’t know (but rest assured, we are looking into) the magnitude of the disaster that could have occurred if firefighters had not been able to control Sunday’s blaze. The only clues we have are that Chief Fire Officer David Hails said it was potentially “catastrophic” and that emergency responders thought it appropriate to evacuate hundreds of people within a one-mile radius of the terminal.

We do appreciate this week’s post-event press conference featuring Chief Hails, but that debrief should have included planning experts, attorneys and perhaps an actuary or two. Chief Hails cannot be expected to speak authoritatively on such issues as: What is the downside risk of having fuel tanks amidst a densely populated and growing area? What is the worst-case scenario if the fuel tanks ignite/combust/explode? Who would be liable? And dozens of others…

Aug. 28: Cuban migration: Cayman’s conundrum

Cuban migrants arriving at Cayman’s water’s edge present a dilemma that to date has proven intractable: On the one hand, Caymanians are a compassionate people, sympathetic to the Cubans seeking a better life for themselves and their families. On the other, Cayman simply doesn’t have the resources to house, detain or assimilate these refugees into our small society.…

While in many ways safe and comfortable, the detention center (currently “home” to 38 migrants) was never designed to be a long-term residence for so many asylum seekers. Problems range from the lack of segregation of male and female “guests” to deficiencies in legal and translation support.…

At its most basic, Cayman’s Cuban migrant problem is this: Our tiny territory does not have the resources, population or infrastructure to accommodate hundreds of political refugees.

Aug. 30: Conservation Law: Revisiting an ‘unnatural disaster’

Four years after the Legislative Assembly hurriedly enacted a convoluted National Conservation Law, it appears poised to hurriedly alter it.

We urge them to proceed, but with care and deliberation.

We have never supported the law – in fact, we have vigorously opposed it since its chaotic conception, which produced a piece of legislation distorted and bent by some three dozen amendments that legislators, at the time they voted on it, could have had no real idea what they were voting on.…

Now that they have had ample opportunity to read the law that they passed and observe its effects, it is entirely appropriate for the new Progressives-led government to reshape the legislation into a statute that is sensible, balanced and fair, and that protects Cayman’s environment without bulldozing the economy and usurping the private property rights of Caymanian landowners.

Sept. 11: ‘Snail bail’ justice: ‘Foots’ and the sugar glider

… These are only two examples of cases dragging on – and on, ad infinitum – in Cayman. (Will we ever see a rogue motorbiker charged, tried, and then acquitted or convicted?)

Such extended use of pre-charge bail undermines our criminal justice system. It casts a cloud of suspicion while denying suspects the chance to prove their innocence. It delays (or even denies) adjudication and punishment for those found guilty of their crimes.

The use of pre-charge bail has been severely limited by England since it is viewed as an unwarranted restriction on people’s rights. There, too, high profile cases had been dragging on without charge or adjudication.…

Sept. 29: Liquor Board must resign en masse

When the Liquor Licensing Board of Grand Cayman convenes today for its quarterly meeting, there should be only two items on its agenda: 1) The issuance of a three-month extension for all existing licenses; and, 2) The tendering of members’ resignations, en masse.…

The board is too compromised to conduct any further business following these, and other, revelations in the report. The auditor’s report further asserts that the board relied on a new “policy,” which it did not have authority to create, to reverse its March 28 decision.…

This matter should now be forwarded to the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, or some other suitable body which possesses such investigatory tools.

Oct. 13: Mount Trashmore: Good news, goodbye and good riddance!

After years of anxiety (and for this newspaper, reporting and editorializing) over what the Cayman Islands is going to do about the hulking health hazard known as the George Town landfill, residents can finally rest easy: The government has reached an agreement with the Dart Group.…

Dart is both the obvious and the natural choice to close, cap and remediate the noxious George Town dump; to build a modern waste management facility; and further, to see that it is operated in an effective manner for the next 25 years.

Dart has the means, and as the troublesome dump’s immediate neighbor, the motivation to see that the project is executed properly. The company, of course, also has a sterling track record.…

Our government and our country cannot and should not rely on any single private sector entity, including Dart, to ride to the rescue every time Cayman confronts a major issue or problem. That being said, when it comes to the landfill, we can think of no better steward than Dart. To quote L. Bell, a frequent commentator to our website (www.caymancompass.com), “Finally! No one can do it better!”…

Nov. 8: Rejecting ‘prejudice’: The day our premier spoke for all of Cayman

… When our country first began to achieve success as a financial services and tourism destination, Cayman’s population – local and foreign – was largely unified by a sense of common purpose.

Over the decades – as the expatriates’ share of the population approached 50 percent – amid the accumulating trappings of wealth and the evolving physical landscape of our islands, the appearance of inequality (some real, some perceived) simultaneously began to develop.…

Premier McLaughlin in his House remarks was calling on the people of these islands to reject purposeful divisiveness and the hate speech promulgated by the loud and the few.…

In truth, many of Cayman’s actual adversaries exist beyond our borders, and they are launching continual assaults on our country, the fundamental underpinnings of our economic model and our conservative social values.

These are beliefs worth standing up for and, collectively, speaking up for.

Nov. 24: Pension ‘exodus’: Bad idea, worse execution

… Operating according to motivations that have never been fully explained (which makes us very nervous), the Legislative Assembly decreed that foreign workers employed by private businesses will no longer be allowed to “cash out” mandatory pension funds after they leave the islands. Any worker who wants control of his or her savings must cease their employment before the end of the year … or, perhaps, the end of the month … maybe.…

The government should never have forced employees and employers to adhere to those pension plans in the first place. But now that they have been created, those pension funds rightfully belong to Cayman’s workers – not the pension providers or the government. How and when they spend the money should be no one’s business but their own.

Similarly, the government should never have changed the law to prevent foreign workers from accessing their pension funds. But now that they have, the least they could do is provide clarity on how to follow their damaging (and highly suspect) law.

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  1. On the whole, the Compass Editorial Team do capture the issues of the day and articulate these well. A fearless fourth estate is vital in any democracy although one that appears to stifle debate where the information comes from more dubious sources, is something that needs to be resisted. How may times have the Compass ‘seen’ documents, they really shouldn’t have?

    That said, I trust they continue their good work in 2018 and I wish them a very happy, dance and music free, New Year.