Britain-based surveys differ widely on what’s important ahead of the release of the UK’s 2012 ‘white paper’ on the relationship it maintains with the Cayman Islands and other overseas territories.
Those who were concerned the Cayman didn’t have enough time to participate in the United Kingdom’s survey of its relationships with overseas territories needn’t have worried.
The Cayman Islands provided a full 35 per cent of the responses – 182 out of 517 – to British and locally-based surveys last year that asked residents of the territories how the current governance relationship with the UK might be enhanced.
It seemed reducing crime was foremost in the minds of most Cayman survey-takers.
According to an analysis compiled ahead of the release of the UK ‘white paper’ this month, a high crime rate within various overseas territories was discussed “more frequently than any other issue”.
“Over half of the concerns regarding crime were raised in submissions from the Cayman Islands,” the UK-based analysis noted, adding that a separate public consultation done by the Cayman Islands government also noted crime as a “significant challenge”.
Both Cayman residents and those in other overseas territories stated that violence and gang crime were particularly of concern.
Although Cayman’s crime rate appears to have balanced out over the past year or so according to police statistics, Royal Cayman Islands Police commanders have repeatedly noted two areas of upsurge in the crime rate; gang-related murders and robberies of businesses or individuals that have occurred since late 2009 early 2010.
In early 2011, Police Commissioner David Baines assessed the situation: “Gang and gun crimes spiralled to levels never before seen in the Cayman Islands,” he said.
However, Mr. Baines noted at the time that he wished local media representatives would take a look outside their borders when reporting on crimes in Cayman.
“[The] Cayman Islands is still a relatively safe place to live…we rarely see anything in the media about that,” RCIPS Commissioner David Baines said.
When comparing 2008 to 2010, RCIPS numbers show there were 81 more serious crimes reported in 2010; an increase of about 11 per cent.
Both serious and volume crimes declined slightly during 2011, when compared to 2010.
The number of reported burglaries dropped from 544 in 2010 to 515 in 2011. Reported assaults doubled between 2010 and 2011.
Robberies, which saw a major rise in 2010 stayed about the same in 2011. There was actually one less robbery reported last year than in 2010, but 2010 robbery reports were believed to represent a record for the Cayman Islands.
There were six murder cases investigated in 2011, compared to five in 2010.
Higher-than normal unemployment rates in the British Overseas Territories were also a major factor in everyday life, according to the UK survey analysis.
“In a private submission a non-governmental organisation in the Caribbean Territories and Bermuda suggested that employment prospects had been worsening for some time,” the UK report noted.
Another frequently mentioned economic and unemployment concern was the fear that expatriate workers were under-cutting local workers’ pay.
“A total of eight submissions, largely from residents of the Cayman Islands, mentioned this concern and two respondents from the Cayman Islands proposed the introduction of a minimum wage to combat the problem,” the survey stated.
The Cayman Islands government noted in its response to the survey: “Striking the appropriate balance between attracting qualified and expert labour from overseas and, in the process of so doing, not obstructing the progress and development of the local workforce remains an elusive task.”
The government also opined that striking that balance was “central to any successful economic planning” in Cayman.
Diversity, both within the local economies and the local populations, of the remaining British Overseas Territories is one of the major challenges facing the small island-states; particularly those in the Caribbean.
According to the survey section that focused on economic development challenges, a main concern among the territories was in finding alternative sources of income to tourism.
“The topic was…raised prominently in the officials’ response by the government of the Cayman Islands and by individuals – often based in the Caribbean and Bermuda,” the report noted. “Economic diversification was raised by a wide variety of respondents to the consultation. It was a concern for residents of the UK as well as the overseas territories.”
“Economy is too dependent on the tourism sector,” noted one response to the survey from Anguilla. “As a consequence, [we are] at the mercy of the global economy.”
UK officials noted that the economic downturn world-wide had played havoc with the economies in many of the overseas territories, but that many issues appeared to be more “structural” in nature.
“A large portion of economic concerns related to problems that required long-term solutions and highlighted the need for diversification of the economy, or improved infrastructure to support a new economy,” the report noted. “This was particularly important for those who noted demographic challenges, both from immigration and an ageing population.”
The 43-page report will inform the issuance of the UK’s “white paper” on the constitutional relationship review with its remaining overseas territories. The discussion paper is due out 14 April.
Cost of living
The cost of living was one trouble area identified in the UK-compiled report and the issue was mentioned by several of those who responded to the survey from Cayman.
“The cost of living in the territories was raised in four submissions and the cost of petrol was raised twice,” the UK report stated. The cost of importing goods in general was also raised as an issue.
In a website comment sent to the foreign office, one respondent noted: “…high increased cost of living, low wages compared to cost of living. No employment available for school-leavers due to people over 60 still holding post.”
Sixteen responses to the UK survey raised issues surrounding demographics in the territories, mainly related to immigration.
“Six respondents in the Caribbean and Bermuda raised concerns about high levels of immigration into the islands,” the report noted. “[There was] a particular focus on older British citizens who were considered a financial burden due to welfare payments.”
Other respondents, from the UK, wondered what British citizens did not have more rights with regard to citizenship within the overseas territories.
“An overseas territory citizen has full rights to a UK passport, but as a UK citizen, it is quite difficult for me to settle long-term or permanently in some of the [territories],” one commenter said.
One man, one vote
This proposal, which would change Cayman’s current district voting system; where four members of the Legislative Assembly are sent to parliament from West Bay and George Town, three from Bodden Town, two from the Sister Islands and one apiece from East End and North Side, has been the subject of considerable debate since the 2009 Constitution Order came into force.
Public meetings held earlier in the year by the country’s Constitution Commission seemed to elicit strong public support for changing the electoral system to single-member constituencies, sectioning off the Cayman Islands in 18 separate representative voting districts.
However, that proposal was not accepted during a review by the Electoral Boundary Commission, which decided to simply add two more legislative seats in George Town and one more in Bodden Town ahead of the May 2013 general elections.
North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, a member of one of Cayman’s two current single-member voting districts, said recently that he believes the 2009 Constitution mandates the “one man, one vote” principle.
Miller argues that it is unfair to his constituents in North Side, who can only vote once during an election, where voters in larger districts can cast three or four ballots per election. Miller has promised to continue to bring private members motions calling for the “one man, one vote” principle until government assents.
The United Democratic Party government, led by Premier McKeeva Bush, does not support single-member constituencies.
“I’m not going to change what I know works for something that I don’t know and that will also cost the country a lot more money to implement and run,” he says. “Do the people want the change? There was recently a petition calling for single-member constituencies that got less than 500 signatures.”
Another more recent petition being circulated on the ‘one man, one vote’ issue has received more than 2,000 signatures, according to media reports. That petition was started by Miller and East End MLA Arden McLean and has asked the government to hold a referendum on the issue by November.
Premier Bush has said that referendum will be held in May 2013, to coincide with the country’s general elections.
The 2009 Constitution does allow for people-initiated referendums [public votes] on government policy.
Those votes, if they are approved by a “50 per cent plus one vote” majority of all registered voters in the Islands, are considered legally binding.
However, the threshold for even initiating a referendum in terms of the number of signatures required to be collected on a petition is very high. Also, the 50 per cent plus one rule is applied to the total number of registered voters, regardless of how many show up on election day.
For instance, if a public vote was held with 15,000 registered voters in Cayman, and only 10,000 showed up at the polls, a total of 7,501 of those 10,000 people would have to vote in favour of the referendum for it to pass – a 75 per cent margin of those who showed for the referendum.
Further, respondents to the governance survey indicated they wished for the right to call for a referendum in the Constitution itself “as opposed to it being dependent upon subsequent legislation for implementation”.
The issue here is that lawmakers would be left to essentially write the language of the referendum in the enabling legislation. Referendum proponents have been concerned this could lead to unintended results from a successful public vote.
Survey respondents wondered if there could be more openness and transparency with regard to the way the business of the Cayman Islands Cabinet is conducted.
Some advocated that the governor, after consultation with Cabinet members [elected government ministers], be “required to publish a summary of the business of Cabinet within 15 days of a Cabinet meeting being held”.
Cayman Islands Cabinet meetings are not open to the public. Generally, ministers of Cabinet meet to decide which government policies and legislation to proceed with. The governor and premier together set the agenda for the meetings.
All legislation that comes before the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly must first be approved by Cabinet members.