We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Friday, February 13, 2009

CAYMAN ISLANDS: A Step toward Transparent Democracy

Freedom of Information Law set
Published on Sunday, January 4, 2009

Carole Excell
Freedom of Information (FOI) Coordinator

Dan Duguay
Auditor General

Billy Adam

By Tad Stoner

Pronouncing herself “ready to go”, Freedom of Information (FOI) Coordinator Carole Excell – and 89 Information Managers throughout Government – on Monday morning will usher in the Cayman Islands first guarantee of public access to official records.

First legislated on 31 August 2007, the long-awaited bill enables the public to seek information on any subject from any government entity, and obligates government to respond, usually within one month of the request.

“It takes the member of the public acting on their rights to enforce their right to know,” said Ms Excell. “It’s up to people to make [the law] work.

“It makes the Government more transparent and accountable. Members of the public have the right to access public records and it helps you make decisions. If you want to know how your country runs, you want to participate in that and you care about your country, you need access to information. It enables you to make informed decisions.”

She said the legislation was not limited to Caymanians.

“Everyone who lives here has an interest,” she said. “For example:

Why are you sending your children to one school if you don’t know how it is run or how the others are run?

What are your rights as a tenant?

You need to find out what the rules are, even if there are rules at all, and then demand that there be rules if there are none.”

Commenting on the long-awaited FOI Law, Auditor General Dan Duguay, charged with scrutinising Government value-for-money transactions, said the promulgation of the new law was critical.

“I think it’s a great thing,” he said, “a great thing for the Cayman Islands. My office is all about accountability; that is what we do, and I strongly support this a way for people to get the information they want.”

He said his office was unlikely to need the FOI law because it already had full access to government records.

“We are in the information game, and I have never had any problem getting information myself because that’s what we do. FOI is much more for others; it’s a great thing.”

Social commentator and local activist Billy Adam greeted the new law with a mixture of relief and hope.

“The proof will be in the pudding, to see how much they actually are going to release,” he said, but lauded the efforts of the ruling People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) and its political chief, Leader of Government Business Hon Kurt Tibbetts, almost single-handedly responsible for realising the legislation.

“The PPM has got to be congratulated for getting this through,” he said. “They followed through, and kept their campaign promise.

“This ushers in a whole new era of participatory democracy,” he said, referring to a proposal in the draft of the new Cayman Islands constitution to allow ‘people’s referendums’ on a variety of issues. “With the constitutional proposals still to be seen, and in order for people to make informed decisions, it is necessary to have information.”

Mr Adam said that already he had, ahead of today’s activation of the law, filed two FOI requests “with four or five more to go”.

One, he said, would be an enquiry about the lack of operating licences at the new West Bay and Morgan’s Harbour dolphin facilities; another would seek to learn what the Attorney General knew about laws governing operations at the attractions.

“I want to see comments on the new Conservation Law being held up; I want full details on the CITES [the United Nation’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] information on the capture of the dolphins; and I will ask the Ministry of Planning why we don’t have an overall development plan.

“I will also ask about Vision 2008 and what discussions have taken place in government about it,” he said.

Ms Excell said she expected an initial flurry of requests, and a few administrative “teething problems”, but anticipated it would settle down shortly.

“We will probably get more requests in the first month, and then by, say, the end of January, we’ll see what agencies are getting the most requests. At first, people may not provide sufficient information to enable managers to identify what information they want, and then people may not get the required response in the time frame they expected.”

Historically, she said, the bulk of requests went to ministries of finance and treasury as people sought financial records; to immigration and health departments for personal records; and to the police and departments of the environment – “especially with the dolphins coming in”.

She acknowledged fears that officials could hide behind the law, exploiting the mandated time frames for responding to requests.

“We have to change a culture and sensitise pubic officials, make sure they understand and are making their preparations and doing their record surveys so they know what records they even have. People only started to take this seriously recently,” she said.

Ms Excell said she was poised to file two requests of her own today. “I just want to know how a couple of things work, why they are they way they are,” she said, declining, however, to elaborate.

“What we’re trying to explain is that FOI is for information that they have not already supplied. It’s not about answers on a telephone, but about seeing records on request. It’s more formal and is about government responding within the period of the law – and within the spirit of the law,” she said.