The success of three days of talks on constitutional reform in the Cayman Islands with five Foreign and Commonwealth officials from the United Kingdom this week were viewed very differently by the two sides of the Legislative Assembly.
While Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts called the meetings very productive, Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush said the visit accomplished very little.
Mr. Bush and other members of the Opposition called a press conference on Tuesday to express their displeasure with the outcome of the meetings.
‘The FCO Constitutional Negotiating Team stated that at the meeting with Mr. Tibbetts and his government yesterday that the PPM government was not ready to commence formal negotiations and had not defined a process as to the way forward,’ Mr. Bush said in a prepared statement.
When the FCO team then asked the Opposition about its position on constitutional modernisation, they decided not to respond.
Mr. Bush said the Opposition had thought the FCO team had come on the invitation of the government to restart constitutional dialogue.
‘This would obviously involve some sort of timeline and process as to the way forward,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘Since this is not the case, it would be premature and unwise for the Opposition to be drafted into an undetermined and unspecified process.
‘Therefore until the LGB says to the country and to the Opposition that he is ready, we will not proceed.’
Mr. Bush said the FCO officials responded by saying they understood the Opposition’s position.
The Opposition had been scheduled to meet with the FCO officials for three hours, but in the end only met with them for about an hour.
Mr. Bush said the Opposition used that hour to recount the history and chronology of the most recent constitutional talks, which were called off in early 2004.
Since the government was not prepared to recommence formal negotiations on constitutional modernisation, Mr. Bush wondered about the purpose of the visit.
‘What are they here for?’ he asked.
Mr. Bush said the FCO team said it was not the UK that was pushing for Cayman’s constitutional reform. ‘But then who is pushing it?’ he asked. ‘They came to Cayman. For what?’
When contacted for comment, Mr. Tibbetts said the meetings had gone exactly as planned.
‘We agreed generally that London would send a team down for exploratory talks to get the process restarted,’ he said. ‘[The talks] were not to restart negotiations.’
Mr. Tibbetts explained the future process for constitutional modernisation.
‘We can’t recommence negotiations without going back to the public,’ he said, noting that some positions held in the past might have changed over time.
After consultation with the public, Mr. Tibbetts said he would then meet with the Opposition, which he assumed would be consulting with the public as well.
After trying to narrow any differences between the Government’s position and that of the Opposition, Cayman would then tell London it was ready to recommence negotiations, which would most likely lead to a new draft constitution.
Eventually the constitution would go back to the public in the form of a referendum, Mr. Tibbetts said.
Mr. Tibbetts said this week’s talks were about getting the process restarted and making sure both sides were on the same page as to the way forward.
The Government met with the FCO officials all day on Monday, Mr. Tibbett said, and had some wrap-up discussion with them on Wednesday.
‘The meetings were exactly the form and format [the FCO team] expected them to be,’ he said. ‘They were very pleased with the discussions and they said they look forward to us getting back to them [as to when the negotiations can begin].’
Mr. Tibbetts said he did not give the FCO team any timeline as to when the government would be ready to recommence the negotiations, and that the UK did not need any indication of that right now.
‘I did tell them we would be getting back to them on a timely manner, without saying anything specific,’ he said.
Mr. Tibbetts said the PPM was committed to seeing the constitutional modernisation process through to its conclusion.