EDITORIAL – Communication is key to an effective Opposition

An effective Opposition makes for a more effective, and representative, Government.

In a parliamentary system, the Opposition provides a critical check on the ruling Government’s power – primarily by asking tough questions and providing dissenting viewpoints.

Accordingly, we view as a welcome development the reinvigoration of Cayman’s Opposition, led by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller. Although his “army” is small (five of the 18 members of the Legislative Assembly, including himself), Opposition Leader Miller has leveraged effectively a singularly powerful weapon – clear and timely communication.

The Compass Editorial Board does not always, or maybe even often, see eye-to-eye with Mr. Miller and those who align with him, but today’s editorial is not about whether we agree or disagree with the Opposition’s position on any particular topic.

Rather, it is to observe that the Opposition is “doing far more with far less” than Government when it comes to communicating forcefully and effectively with the public.

For example, Mr. Miller, speaking for the Opposition, has drawn attention to government spending and budget priorities, pushed for progress on the John Gray High School project and pushed back on education officials’ intransigence on the artificial turf for the North Side primary school playing field. He has spotlighted the non-performance of the Department of Environmental Health, particularly in relation to trash collection.

Following the revelation that OfReg Board Chairman Linford Pierson had threatened a fellow board member with physical violence (a sort of “punch line” to the agency’s track record of dysfunction), Mr. Miller publicly called for Mr. Pierson’s removal as chairman.

And after the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office notified the country – via a two-sentence press release – that Anwar Choudhury would not be returning to Cayman as governor, following a months-long “investigation” into unspecified “allegations,” Mr. Miller was prepared with a powerful (and publishable) comment that the FCO’s shadowy handling of the situation constituted “an insult to every fair-minded Caymanian.”

The Government, meanwhile, weighed down by its multitudes of “public relations professionals” (GIS, spokespersons, press secretaries, etc.,) and bogged down with levels upon levels of bureaucracy (necessitating approvals, edits and re-approvals of official statements), often is only able to muster “slow comments” or “no comments.” (Or, what’s worst of all, statements that are long on word count but woefully short on substance.)

Lest anyone conclude that this editorial is a paean to Mr. Miller and the small band he leads, we cannot resist, nor should we, taking aim at their coordinated walkout of the Legislative Assembly in support of Deputy Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo, who had been suspended temporarily over his refusal to apologize to House Speaker McKeeva Bush for comments Mr. Suckoo had made about cruise berthing that Mr. Bush believed were directed at him.

The walkout had little effect, except perhaps to expedite the majority Government’s carrying out of business in the Opposition’s absence – every elected majority’s dream. It’s pretty fundamental, the Opposition has to be in attendance in order to oppose.

But putting that aside for the moment, we believe that the Government would be well served by a top-to-bottom re-examination of how it communicates with the people, meaning the voters, of these islands.

If Government continues to be elusive, secretive and reluctant to interact regularly and candidly with the public (via its proxy, the media), it may learn a very harsh lesson that Mr. Miller and the Opposition already understand:

In a democracy, a vocal minority can often defeat a silent majority. In fact, come election time, that is how minorities become majorities.