Youth Parliament takes center stage

Shanell Martinez, the Speaker of the Youth Parliament, presides over the debate on the floor of the Legislative Assembly on Monday.

The ideas are the same but delivered with the force of youthful exuberance.

The voices of Cayman’s future stepped up to lead the Legislative Assembly Monday, when the 12th Youth Parliament of the Cayman Islands took place to commemorate Commonwealth Day.

The event, which invites high school and college students to mirror the Legislative Assembly and debate issues facing this jurisdiction, gave a sneak preview of what tomorrow’s leaders may sound like.

Barbara Conolly, Ministry of Education councilor and George Town South MLA, gave introductory comments Monday and noted that the Youth Parliament had its highest ever turnout – 27 youth representatives – with 16 members of the delegation being young women.

Women represented the Youth Parliament in positions of leadership, such as premier, speaker of the house, deputy speaker and deputy leader of the opposition, and Ms. Conolly was thrilled by the diversity.

“As we strive for gender equality in the world, let us commend these young women in the roles they have chosen in this debate,” said Ms. Conolly to the Youth Parliament. “You are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence.”

Richard Weber, the Youth Parliament’s minister of health, spoke in favor of a resolution limiting the use of single-use plastics.

Students from John Gray, Clifton Hunter and Prospect Primary schools filled the gallery on Monday, as the Youth Parliament debated a regulation on the usage of plastic bags and the need for implementation of a juvenile detention and youth rehabilitation center for the Cayman Islands.

Premier Alden McLaughlin spoke just before the proceedings began, praising today’s youth for being more engaged in issues than generations past.

“You believe, like no other generation before you, that equality is a God-given right, regardless of your color, regardless of your ethnicity, regardless of your gender, and regardless of your sexual orientation,” said Mr. McLaughlin to the assembled youth delegates.

“The future of this country is bright. It is secure because you care more about the things that are important, the things that are sustainable, that will allow this country to endure not just for the next generation, but for generations to come,” he added.

The floor of the Legislative Assembly stood at attention for the Speaker’s Procession at the Youth Parliament on Monday.

Richard Weber, who for the purposes of the gathering was the youth minister of environment and representative for George Town West, spoke early in the proceedings in favor of a bill to regulate the use of single-use plastics in Cayman. He said that plastics inevitably end up being consumed by animal and fish species and then by humans at the other end of the food chain, creating unspeakable and unpredictable health problems.

“We need to stand in solidarity amongst government and amongst opposition to recognize the truth [that] a matter of such importance is beyond petty party politics,” Mr. Weber said. “This is a matter that affects our health, the health of our children and the health of our children’s children.”

Alexandra Rodrigues, the youth representative for Prospect, noted that the opposition concedes that plastics are a serious environmental concern. But the question, Ms. Rodrigues noted, is not whether something should be done, but whether the proposed legislation will make an impact.

Youth Parliament Premier Kiarilyn Reyes listens as members of the delegation make their arguments regarding the use of single-use plastics in Cayman. – photos: Taneos Ramsay

The bill, Ms. Rodrigues said, aims to ban plastic bags from supermarkets checkout counters, but not all plastic bags used in local stores. In fact, she said, it lists nine different exemptions for using plastic bags.

“Is the government’s bill, as currently presented, the solution? How much real difference can it make in reducing the use of plastic bags and, even more importantly, how much difference will it make in reducing the overall quantity of pollution by plastics?” she asked. “I would say ‘Not enough.’

“My position, Madame Speaker, is that the government’s bill in its current form and its current focus is inadequate, insufficient and, therefore, needs to be amended.”

The bill on the regulation of plastic bags passed following a vote by members. The debate on the need for a juvenile detention and youth rehabilitation center was continuing at press time.

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