Cayman Islands citizens may have the chance to shape their own draft constitution in a public vote before the issue heads to the UK government for review.
‘At this stage, we’re giving serious thought to having the referendum before we’ve concluded the constitution,’ said Education Minister Alden McLaughlin at a press briefing last week.
In its 2005 campaign manifesto, the People’s Progressive Movement stated it would insist that any significant constitutional changes require the approval of the people of the Cayman Islands expressed by a referendum. It also stated that it wanted a constitutional provision for a binding people-initiated referendum.
Mr. McLaughlin said he and other members of the ruling PPM party are concerned about what would happen with a straight ‘up or down’ vote on a constitution which has first been negotiated behind closed doors with the UK.
‘If they (UK officials) agree, we come back here and the country says ‘no, you’ve got us all wrong’….we’ve wasted a whole lot of time and money on the exercise,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.
‘What we need, we believe, is a mandate to go to the UK with and say ‘this is what the people want.”
Mr. McLaughlin noted that ‘a firm view’ had not been taken on whether such a pre-vote on the constitution should be held, but he said the government was inclined to that view at this stage.
It’s not clear yet how such a referendum would proceed. Presumably, voters would consider issues such as whether there should be single member constituencies or a Chief Minister position in government, as separate items on the ballot.
The process of gaining public input on the constitution will take an import step forward this week when the office of the Constitutional Review Secretariat opens on Thursday. The office will be headed by Cabinet Secretary, Orrett Connor.
Professor Jeffery Jowell QC, a constitutional lawyer from Blackstone Chambers in London has been hired as a consultant to help Cayman with its constitutional review programme.
Mr. McLaughlin said he expected a ‘public discussion paper’ will be created with the help of the secretariat office by mid-April. He said this paper should not be considered a draft constitution, but rather a set of issues and options for people to consider.
The discussion paper will be the basis of starting public talks on the constitution which will include a series of public meetings scheduled to start in the spring.
The Government is hoping the process will lead to a strong public consensus for what is wanted in the constitution.
A low majority of people approving a proposed constitution could make the UK hesitant to approve it.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts recently called the chances of having only a low majority approving a proposed constitution ‘not likely to happen.’