Government is standing by a Facebook post claiming that people who have signed the petition calling for a referendum on the cruise port can have their signatures withdrawn – even after they have filled out verification forms.
The post ran on government’s pro-port social media page alongside an advert saying, “contact the Elections Office and have your say if you would like your name removed from the petition”.
Amid accusations of political interference in the verification process, the Ministry of Tourism defended the post this week.
“The public has a right to be accurately informed about their options regarding the petition, including how they can unverify their name should they wish to do so,” the ministry said in a statement following emailed questions from the Compass. Johann Moxam, one of the campaigners for a referendum, said the posts were “direct examples of political interference and intimidation” and were designed to encourage people to withdraw support for the referendum. He has called on the governor to intervene.
In a press release Wednesday, Supervisor of Elections Wes Howell confirmed the Elections Office is accepting requests from petitioners to “unverify” their signatures. So far, he said only 2 people had done so.
He said in a statement, “During this process, the proportion of persons being able to remove their names from the list of verified petitioners has been widely debated, as has the validity of doing so. Some public discussion is also ongoing about the appropriateness of additional signatures being collected and submitted while verification is in progress.
“The total number of persons who have declined to be verified stands at 89, and 2 persons have requested for their previously verified signatures to be ‘un-verified’.
“In an effort to be fair and reasonable, the Elections Office will continue to receive and record the wishes of persons who want to be ‘un-verified’, while the CPR is able to continue to collect and submit additional petition signatures,” he added,
He said the Elections Office will continue to maintain a record of all originally submitted petition signatures and will make an indication of which signatures have been verified and which have chosen to do otherwise.
Moxam accused government of meddling in the verification process by encouraging people to withdraw their signatures.
In an open letter to Governor Martyn Roper and to the Elections Office, hesaid government was actively encouraging people to withdraw support for the referendum in what he described as a political campaign. He said the governor had committed to ensure that the verification process was carried out fairly and without interference and should step in at this point.
“Please confirm if a statement will be publicly issued and the actions being taken by the Governor’s Office to address my concerns and if possible sanction the elected government for their actions,” he wrote.
“Their political interference and intimidation tactics reflect poorly on your ability to [ensure] that principles of good governance exist and thrive in the Cayman Islands.”
Emails to the Governor’s Office were not returned by press time Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Tourism, which runs the Support our Tourism social media page, said in a statement that the post was “100 percent factual.” She said the post was simply providing accurate information to the public.
The Elections Office has previously said that people who had signed the petition were entitled to decline to fill out verification forms.
But government’s post goes further, indicating that people who signed the petition and went on to fill out verification forms confirming their signature could still opt to withdraw.
It stated, “Callers to various talk shows throughout this week have said they’re reassured by the answers from government and would like to remove their name from the petition. If you feel the same way you can still remove your name, even if your signature has been verified.”
Linda Clark, of Cruise Port Referendum Cayman, said there had never been any previous reference in discussion with the Elections Office or with the governor to any mechanism for people to retract their verification forms.
She said the petition simply called for a referendum on the issue and if anyone had changed their mind about supporting the port on the basis of government’s presentations, they could vote whichever way they wanted in the referendum.
The ministry statement said the Elections Office was contacted before the publication of the post and had confirmed it was “100 percent correct.”
It said that similar information had been given on the radio phone-in show.
“There is absolutely no intimidation or interference suggested by the post,” it stated.
“The post does not direct people to remove their names nor does it instruct or ask anyone to so. It is merely providing the public with factual information in response to questions raised by members of the public about how they can remove their names from the petition.”
At last count, the Elections Office had verified 80.4% of the 5,292 signatures needed to trigger a referendum on the port.