Letter: Reasons to oppose voting rights for UK citizens

A permanent resident of Cayman is not allowed to own a business in full or in part unless they get certain exemptions. Otherwise, they have to work for someone else. And whether or not they have a job, they must pay work permit fees or lose their permanent residence. I have a friend who lost his PR after he had lived in Cayman for about 16 years. He had to leave, splitting a blended family he had established with a generational Caymanian. His son, who came to Cayman as a toddler and is now in university, is also in danger of being jettisoned.

I will not be overly critical about the laws that allow this to happen. We have to understand that generational Caymanians are now a minority in their own country. Further, they do not meaningfully control the policies of government and often jobs they are qualified for are given to work permit holders. In such circumstances, it is not fair to expect generational Caymanians to be sympathetic to such cases.

Overall, it must be very painful for generational Caymanians to see that they are being socially, economically and culturally displaced. Further, such political control as remains is becoming increasingly nominal as the incomers have taken control behind the scenes and hold great sway over the political directorate.

As if that was not enough, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.K. House of Commons has recommended that U.K. citizens should be afforded the right to vote and stand for elections in Cayman. This means that any such person may vote without holding Caymanian status or even permanent residency. In the absence of any residency requirements, such a person can come to Cayman for the first time, register as a voter, go back to the U.K., return to Cayman to vote and go back to the U.K. It is not likely to happen often, but would be legally possible. Indeed, such a person would have the right to vote while a PR holder cannot vote.

The poor Caymanian who, out of desperation rather than cynicism, might find solace in the revocation of permanent residency for the recalcitrant PR holder, may now have to contend with people from the U.K. who could soon be allowed to vote and stand for elected office without any real connection to the country. And the former unemployed PR holder who may have lived in comfortable Cayman for many years but lost his hard-earned immigration status after failing to pay the work permit fees has to return to a place like rural Jamaica, for example, knowing that a person who never even lived in Cayman before has taken his or her place. This is bad not just for generational Caymanians but for every person, regardless of original nationality, who has lived in Cayman for a long time and has gained PR or Caymanian status.

Consider also that those who lose their status due to failure to pay work permit fees are likely to be predominantly black and brown, and that the people who would come to Cayman under the proposed new measure will likely be mostly white. Some Caymanian friends of mine have expressed the fear that this proposal will just accelerate the whitening of the community, which is likely to result in more intense discrimination against black and brown people. And to be sure, Caymanian whites are not generally considered or treated as white by some whites who have come to Cayman more recently. So those Caymanians will not escape this discrimination either.

For these and other reasons, probably for the first time ever, there is what appears to be serious discussion about independence in Cayman. But are there major risks with independence? Not really. I agree with those leaders who have said that Cayman is not in this enviable position today just because of association with the U.K. That may have been so a long time ago but not now. And as some leaders have pointed out, certain independent countries like Singapore have a history similar to that of Cayman. That country was the backwater of Malaysia but broke away and became what it is today.

Also, people need to understand that where independence seemed to fail, it was because of social, economic, geographical and other disadvantages which Cayman does not have or have to the same degree. Indeed, many of those countries have since made great strides towards economic and social development. Thus people of every colour or creed who have made Cayman their home must work together not just to fight this new recommendation but to work towards independence at some point, a point which may now be nearer than many would have imagined only months ago. Even if this recommendation is not ultimately adopted now, it may return in future. Even if it does not, there will be other unacceptable prescriptions over time. Despite certain appearances sometimes, this partnership has always been, and will continue to be, similar to that of the rider and the horse, until the relationship is fundamentally changed.

Bilika Simamba

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