LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Transparency Cloud Covers Cayman Elections
The holding of the 2017 general elections was the first time that the one-man, one-vote system was used under the new electoral district scheme in the Cayman Islands. That election was observed by international observers from The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, British Islands and Mediterranean Region, which deployed an Election Observation Mission (EOM) to the Cayman Islands from 19 to 27 May 2017.
The purpose of the EOM was to ensure compliance of the election process with laws and international standards. However, the April 2021 elections (called early by the Governor of the Cayman Islands following consultation with the Premier) does not include an invitation by the Governor of any international observers. The lack of UK oversight for the April 2021 elections is important and is likely to trigger a public discussion on transparency, especially in relation to ballot boxes.
Secrecy of the ballot
Section 39 of the Elections Act states that the returning officer “shall provide each polling station with a statement showing the number of ballot papers so provided, with their serial numbers”.
Section 41 goes on to say that “each ballot paper shall have a serial number printed on the back and shall have attached to it a counterfoil with the same serial number printed on the face and there shall be a line of perforations between the ballot paper and the counterfoil”. This practice is contrary to recommendation 13 of the 2017 international observers who proposed that the serial numbers be removed from the ballot paper in order to protect the secrecy of the vote.
Conflicts of interest
The secrecy of the vote is further complicated by the existence of perceived conflicts of interest. For example, prior to the general elections, one person fills the role of Chief Officer within the Ministry of Employment and Border Control, which is the ministry for which the Hon. Premier has responsibility.
A few months before elections, that same employee is then appointed as Supervisor of Elections by the Governor of the Cayman Islands. The fact that the Hon. Premier is a candidate in general elections and an employee within his portfolio is also the Supervisor of Elections does raise questions regarding perceived conflicts of interest.
This perceived conflict could be better managed in subsequent general elections by appointing a person who is independent (in fact and in appearance) of the office of the Hon. Premier. This would give voters and candidates greater comfort regarding fairness and impartiality in election-related matters.
Governance is an ongoing issue
Outside the election process, lack of transparency is nothing new. For example, in the case of the Smith Barcadere Redevelopment Project, no written minutes were kept by the member of Parliament.
There was also no evidence of the official establishment of a valid committee for that multi-million-dollar project. Conflicts of interest were also present in that case. In the context of the overall governance framework, this is important as it is a forecast about the way that things will be done in the future. It is this concern for the overall governance framework that calls for the physical presence of international observers to oversee the April 2021 elections.
Otherwise, ballot boxes could go missing or an important matter could go unrecorded. With the election date being over 30 days away, there is still time for the Governor to do the right thing. Invite covid-free international observers, have them quarantine and assist with the general conduct of the April 2021 elections.