Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bamboozled (apartheid in Cayman?)

Every year or two, our local politicians and their cronies go through the solemn ritual of examining Cayman’s foreign-labour rules and changing them. Oh dear, employers still don’t want to hire ethnic Caymanians because they’re not up to standard or because they are impossible to fire. Huh. Who do these employers think they are? We are the masters now. We will tell them who to hire and who not. And if our latest fiddling doesn’t work, we’ll come back in another year or two and do some more.

This quaint ritual has been going on since the first Caymanian Protection Law in 1973, nearly forty years ago. Hasn’t anybody in authority had the brains to wonder why it’s taking so long to get it right? Yes, yes, we can all point to true-born Caymanians who have made the grade. But some of them would have made it on their own, if the protection hadn’t been there. The trouble is, we don’t know which ones. It takes new immigrants a while to figure out whose promotions and appointments were deserved, and whose were made to appease the Work Permit authorities.

In any case, it’s reasonable to wonder: how come, after forty years of effort, tokenism and protection is still needed for ethnic Caymanians to succeed in business? What’s gone wrong? Does the failure reflect incompetence of a very high order, or was it all just a sham from the beginning?

Maybe it was a sham, you know. As I’ve written in this week’s CaymanNetNews, the United Nation’s CERD Convention (the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) requires all its member-states to ensure “the adequate development and protection” of all members of identifiable ethnic groups. The 15,000 or so true-born Caymanians are one such group; Britain has supposedly been developing and protecting them for the past forty years. The fact that so many of them are still not able to compete on equal terms with newcomers to the Islands is bizarre. Forty years? Fifteen thousand people? Are you kidding me? Nobody could be that incompetent.

But wait... The CERD Convention goes on to forbid UN member-states from continuing special privileges for any protected ethnic group beyond the moment when adequate development has been achieved. That would be apartheid, if you think about it; and many people at the UN do think about it sooner or later. So a cynic might suggest that Britain’s failure to achieve “adequate development” for Caymanians was a deliberate ploy to delay independence- not incompetence at all. Hmmm.

I have never believed the theory that Britain wants to get rid of Cayman. To me, it wouldn’t make sense for the FCO and its agencies to give up control of such a strategically valuable site in the Caribbean region. That would not be in Britain’s national interests.

Keeping the locals under-educated and under-developed would be a clever way to delay the evil day more or less indefinitely. I suspect that’s exactly what has happened. You’d think the UN might have twigged, sometime during that forty years; but apparently not. The native Caymanians themselves didn’t twig. If they had done, they might have demanded a decent education system instead of demeaning themselves by accepting the patronising protection that locks so many of them below the glass ceilings.

Over the years, the Caymanians have watched billions of dollars being wasted on state bureaucracies (Immigration, Education, Labour Office) that could and should have educated the people to the point where they could compete on equal terms with middle-class expats. Sorry, boys and girls: it looks very much as though you’ve been bamboozled all these years. Wakey, wakey!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tribal Jostling (exploiting migrants in Cayman)

My column in this weekend’s Cayman Net News explains the 2009 election results in terms of how and why the PPM got tossed out of office so unexpectedly. The topic was prompted by the sudden burst of rhetoric from the PPM after nearly two years of sulking.

I quoted the standard axiom of politics, that Oppositions don’t win general elections so much as Governments lose them. It’s way too early to get caught up in the excitement (?) of the 2013 campaign, but can we discern any of the issues yet? Well, no, because there never are any issues in Cayman elections. Our two Parties don’t differ in their policies, only in the personalities of their spokesmen and representatives. Both Parties subscribe to semi-Marxist economic ideas and to a semi-fascist approach towards bond-service for migrant workers.

Both Parties rank Caymanian bloodline as a superior qualification for job-seekers at all levels, over ability or aptitude. Some occupations are actually reserved for ethnic Caymanians, again regardless of ability or aptitude. Most prominent among these are the offices of MLA and managers of the indentured-service system. No immigrants need apply for those or dozens of other reserved jobs. They are not reckoned to be loyal enough to the interests of the bloodline Caymanian community.

This set-up wasn’t designed (by the British FCO) to last forever- but, yet, it has lasted for more than a full generation after the influx of immigrants that began in the mid-1970s. The FCO’s embarrassment threshold has been raised quite a lot in recent decades. Its clerks are no longer fazed by faint intimations of slavery-  namely, in the exploitation of low-paid indentured-servants recruited from thousands of miles away. Compared with what goes on in the British-controlled enclaves in the Middle East, the exploitation is small beer.

Yet, to innocents whose souls are not dead to humanitarian feelings, the exploitation is offensive. Of course, the offence is leagues away from slavery; it is semi-slavery only in its worst manifestations. However, it does sit uncomfortably with the FCO’s championing of international standards of human rights. Ah well... colonial masters are allowed to be hypocritical; that’s one of the privileges.

Regrettably, neither of our political Parties wants a free labour market in Cayman. Party doctrine requires the state control of labour, and that’s what we get. During boom times, an economy can afford to pay for the inefficiencies of bond-service; but in less prosperous times, not so much. None of our MLAs or their cronies have any real concept of those inefficiencies or of how to remove them. Some of our immigrants do. The office of MLA needs to be opened up to immigrants, if our Islands are to progress beyond the present silly tribal jostling.

It doesn’t seem to bother our MLAs that they are figures of amusement to so many neutral observers. There is no dignity in the narcissism of village Napoleons, after all. It isn’t conducive to good governance to exalt vanity above talent. The FCO’s tolerance can only be explained by reference to the secret national interests of the mother country. You would think those interests could survive the addition of two or three foreign immigrants to the list of candidates for the 2013 general election; but maybe not.

They would receive the standard death threats, of course; but foreign-born candidates in our beauty pageants - Miss This or Miss That - often receive similar threats, and nothing much ever comes of those.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Intolerable Criminality (violence in Cayman)

The three muggings of tourists reported last week stirred one or two of our MLAs into action, or at least the rhetoric of action. The Police were embarrassed, because it is their responsibility to protect our community from street criminals. Private tourism-service providers were disappointed, as were merchants and householders.

“Something must be done!” We all cried. Well, something always needs to be done, doesn’t it? Recommendations are flying left, right and centre. TV cameras at street corners, fingerprintings and ID cards for migrants working in the private sector, biometric IDs for overseas visitors, assassination squads, armed vigilantes, helicopters, more policemen, tougher policemen... We have a grandly named National Security Council to make recommendations for the long-term. Better schooling, better parenting, better policing, bigger prisons, tougher prisons... Anybody could write the NSC’s report between the first and second coffee of the day.

The NSC is a bit of a joke, so far – just politicians and their chums. Nobody outside the magic circle knows what they do when they meet, if they do meet. Will its members have the guts to recommend decriminalising the local consumption of recreational drugs? That will show how useful (or useless) the NCS is. Will they have the wit to devise a detailed strategy to improve the quality of parenting, especially among native Caymanians? The prevalence of home-grown young thugs is a predictable consequence of bad parenting.

In a rich and tiny place like ours there has never been a shortage of money to pay for parental training. Even in this current economic decline, government has more money than it knows what to do with; the waste of Public Revenue is as irresponsible as ever. The problem has always been that politicians and voters have preferred government’s revenues to be spent on subsidies and bureaucratic boondoggles like Cayman Airways, the Turtle Farm and the Department of Tourism. In effect, those ventures have been judged to be more important than pre-empting the growth of those home-grown thugs. Say wha’? How could any sane person make such a cockamamie choice?

Yet even now, in light of all the muggings and burglaries, the choice would probably be confirmed. If a referendum were held on whether to re-allocate the money spent on those subsidies and boondoggles, I doubt the vote would favour re-allocation. McKeeva deplores the incidence of street-crime as “intolerable”, but does he really mean it? I don’t think he does. I think it’s political rhetoric. He is a canny politician, and he is confident that his constituents would never vote to allow Cayman Airways and the other boondoggles to go to the wall. They would rather tolerate the crimes.

Some people do think local crime-levels are intolerable – both violent crimes and non-violent crimes such as corruption and theft. But most of us are immigrants who would happily throw CAL & the DOT under the bus, in exchange for crime-prevention measures. We have a different order of priorities. We also tend not to give non-violent crimes the free pass that native Caymanians give them. To us, corruption is equally unacceptable. We know that the culture of bloodline entitlement is a perversion, and that corruption in small things leads inevitably to corruption in large things.

Let’s face it: criminal violence is a tough way to make a living. Most muggers would far rather steal money from the comfort of air-conditioned offices, if they could choose. Who wouldn’t? Mugging and burglary are risky activities; you can get killed doing that. Corrupt individuals are excellent role models for street criminals. It doesn’t make sense for us to distinguish between the two.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Working Mothers

A few weeks ago, four or five Caymanian mothers mounted a street protest to beg for jobs. As you would expect, the authorities got all their knickers in a twist. The Labour Office vowed to find out why they had been turned down for jobs in favour of some less qualified foreigners. Sigh. We never heard what happened to them in the end; did they get jobs or not?

I rather hope they didn’t get jobs - and here’s why. Being a mother is already a full-time job, pretty much - especially a mother of four children, as one of the protestors was. Children get sick, and in trouble at school. They need milk and cookies after school, and supervision at weekends and during school holidays, and tender loving care most other times. The last thing these protesting mothers needed or wanted was extra work. What they needed and wanted was extra money. Theirs was a Social Services problem, not a Labour Office one.

I’ve gone into this in some detail in my column in this weekend’s edition of Cayman Net News.  The topic of working mothers with at-risk children deserves a lot more attention than it receives; it deserves debate.
All unemployed Caymanians - including of course the protesting mothers - are victims of Cayman’s wretched Immigration law. Once hired, most native Caymanians can never be fired - except with the payment of a bribe to some official. I don’t know if all Caymanians are aware of this, but all expat employers are. So who in his right mind would hire a Caymanian who has been turned down for every other job he or she has applied for, and who would be nigh impossible to get rid of?

We all grumble about Cayman’s bad parents, who don’t spend enough quality time with their children. Children who are uncared-for and undisciplined are at high risk of becoming criminals or druggies or both. So why on earth would we want these protest-mothers to join the workforce? Are we mad? Surely it would be better to pay them to stay at home and mind their kids, than to wait until the kids grow up and are shot while burgling, or locked away for life as drug addicts.

I don’t advocate paying all mothers to stay home and mind their babies - but some, yes. I have two grandchildren in Norway whose unmarried mother is paid to stay out of the workforce during their formative years. Norway is a rich little country ("little" by world standards, though with 100 times the population of Cayman), but it’s no richer than Cayman, per capita. Its politicians’ priorities are different from ours, that’s all. It pays as much to unmarried mothers as Cayman pays in subsidies to Cayman Airways over the years.

Looking for a Norwegian town to compare with Cayman for size, I found Lillehammer, which has about the same number of voters as Cayman. It’s a sophisticated tourist resort, famous for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics. The remarkable thing about Lillehammer is that its governing council has (so far!) resisted the temptation to operate its own airline - or its own ridiculous turtle farm, come to that.

Like every other Norwegian town of its size, it chooses child-care over hugely expensive vanity projects. Why don’t we do that?