Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A parliament of fools (Cayman politics)

The big event on our local political calendar next month is the referendum on single-member constituencies. Largely, it’s a waste of time and effort. Our unpopular ruling party (UDP) is against the proposal on the grounds that single-members might cost it the next election; our almost-as-unpopular opposition party (PPM) is begging for a YES vote for the identical reason.

Until now, only our two smallest settlements have elected one MLA each – East End and North Side. Cayman Brac elects two, Bodden Town three, George Town four, and West Bay four. Overseas readers will be amused to know that Cayman’s 15,000 voters elect a mini-parliament of fifteen MLAs – AND that we are soon to get three more, thanks to 1) local lobbying by political cronies anxious to jump on the gravy train and 2) cowardly appeasement by our colonial masters in London.

If one of the additional seats is allotted to each of the largest three electorates, and if the single-member referendum fails, the voters of West Bay and George Town will be invited to tick up to five names each in next May’s general election.

At a time when the rest of the world is cutting back on government bureaucracies, Cayman will add three or four or five new departments, fully staffed and office’d at an annual cost of several million dollars in salaries, family pensions, family medical expenses, family credit cards and family travelling expenses local and international. Government’s annual Budgets are in deficit already, so the money will all be borrowed, and the loans be repaid out of future Public Revenue. If there is enough of it.

One of my early childhood friends and schoolmates later represented 100,000 voters in the Australian Parliament, in an electorate of almost 300,000 square miles. Every two or three years he campaigned the length and breadth of an area slightly larger than Texas, seventy times the size of Jamaica and three thousand times the size of Cayman. (The electorate was Maranoa; check it out on Wikipedia, in case I got my figures wrong.) Yet Caymanians reckon they need eighteen elected representatives in their one hundred square miles and 15,000 voters. Sigh. What a joke.

Our MLAs divide themselves into two teams of bloodline-Caymanian chums and cronies drawn from a tiny gene-pool. Personal popularity is everything; there are no policy-differences at all. Both teams indulge freely in anti-expat rhetoric. Back in 2003, pressured by Britain to reduce the backlog of citizenship applications, the ruling team of the day in effect signed blank certificates and scattered them like confetti to expats deserving and undeserving. The anti-expat lobby reacted with fury, so the rulers introduced a seven-year residency limit for working expats. Alas! Too little, too late.

The Lobby swung its support to the other team, which, in power in 2005, back-dated the “rollover” period and implemented an ethnic-cleansing exercise of thousands of expat domestic workers domiciled here for up to twenty-five years. Alas! Too much, too late.

There were just enough new expat citizens to vote their benefactors back in, in 2009. The open question now is whether the same factors will be in play next year. Will the irresponsible governance of the slightly-less anti-expat gang be forgiven by the beneficiaries of the confetti-scattering of 2003, or will the latter hold their noses and vote for the gang supported by Cayman's xenophobes?

Unless a large number of independent candidates emerge, courageous enough to defy the anti-expat Lobby, Cayman will enter yet another four-year period of irresponsible governance. God help us, then!