Giving voice to civil society
It is said that to be successful, governments need the support and partnership of civil society.
“Democratic society,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the 6th Summit of the Americas, “is like a three-legged stool. One leg must be responsible, accountable government. The second leg must be a private sector that creates jobs and opportunities for people. And the third leg must be a robust civil society that speaks up on behalf of those who may not be able to speak for themselves. If one of those legs – government, economy, civil society – is too short or is cut off, the stool collapses.”
We are witnessing in the Cayman Islands today, a move towards more active participation by civil society, which should be seen as a welcome development.
The Cayman Islands is about to have its second referendum in the space of three years. This latest poll has come about only in the last few months and is as a result of the activist role of a group of concerned persons — many of them younger Caymanians.
They have focused on the issue of voter equality and a change to the country’s electoral system, with the launch of a petition calling for single member constituencies and one man, one vote. In response to this, government has decided to call a referendum on the matter.
This speaks to the unique position that civil society organisations occupy — they are able to speak out of important issues in a very public way, spark debate on burning issues and ultimately bring about much-needed change.
It is rather curious that this government has taken the hard-line stance that it will campaign against the referendum that it has called, simply for the sake of been oppositional to those who have called for a change in the electoral system. This is not the kind of action that encourages dialogue or promotes working together towards fundamental change — which is a pity, because there is no society in which an elected government can go it alone, without the support, activism, and yes, even criticism of civil society.
Along with the citizens campaigning for one man, one vote, we are also witnessing other very active community groups who have been well organised and vocal in their support of one cause or another or strident in their opposition of certain moves by government. The Concerned Citizens and the Coalition Against the Bodden Town Dump are two that come readily to mind. Their efforts from last year to now have been relentless, even in the face of much push back from the current political leadership.
In any community, there will never be unanimity of thought and purpose, but it is hoped that greater connection can be forged between civil society and governments, in working towards the same ends — that of the progress and development of their countries.
Common ground should be found on issues such as good governance and human rights and governments interested in openness and transparency should seek to be as inclusive of civil society groups as possible.
It behooves this government to listen more and engage even further with civil society on the issues that are now of fundamental importance to the Caymanian people. It is clear that many more voices are united in determining the direction that the country should take now, and for the future.
Those positions of power — those elected by the people — would do well to consider that much can be achieved when government reformers, civil society leaders and business leaders work together to advance causes involving broader participation, transparency and accountability that will ultimately improve the lives of people in a community.
“There is an undeniable connection between how a government operates and whether its people flourish,” said Secretary Clinton. “When a government invites its people to participate, when it is open as to how it makes decisions and allocates resources, when it administers justice equally and transparently, and when it takes a firm stance against corruption of all kinds, that government is, in the modern world, far more likely to succeed.”