The choice of Kearney Gomez to serve as temporary first official member of the Legislative Assembly prompted a strong objection from Opposition MLA Julianna O’Connor-Connolly on Wednesday.
Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly asked Deputy Speaker of the House Cline Glidden Jr. for special permission to speak on the matter just before adjournment for the day.
‘I believe all the Members agree with the doctrine of separation of powers and the rule of law,’ she said, adding that the appointment of Mr. Gomez as the temporary first official member was an infringement of the separation of powers.
Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly pointed out that Mr. Gomez was not only a permanent secretary under a government minister, but also the supervisor of elections.
‘This just isn’t any senior officer,’ she said.
‘I believe a grave constitutional error has been made either directly or indirectly.
Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly asked for the Government to address the matter before it resumed the House yesterday morning.
The objection had nothing to do with Mr. Gomez in particular, Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly said, adding that she held him in the highest esteem. The concern was only raised because of its constitutional implications.
‘We don’t want to set a precedent,’ she said. ‘Never before have I seen a permanent secretary being transferred to this post. It is unfair to the post holder… he is in a quasi-judicial role.
‘Normally it would be an official from [the portfolio] of Internal and External Affairs.’
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts stood to address the objection. He said he could not answer her as to why Mr. Gomez had been chosen to act as temporary First Official Member because the choice had been made by Acting Governor George McCarthy.
‘But as I understand it, the person who usually acts is the senior chief officer within government ranks, who is the person who sits in the seat today.’
Usually, Chief Secretary George McCarthy is the first official member of the House. However, Mr. McCarthy is serving as acting governor because Governor Stuart Jack is off island.
‘His Excellency the Governor had to leave suddenly because his father was very ill, and in fact, his father has passed away,’ he said.
Mr. Tibbetts explained that when Mr. McCarthy is unavailable, Deputy Chief Secretary Donovan Ebanks normally serves as temporary first official member, but he is away on vacation.
With Mr. Ebanks unavailable, the Chief Immigration Officer could sit in the seat as first official members, Mr. Tibbetts said, but stressed it was not his government’s decision.
‘The second official members [Attorney General Sam Bulgin] can decide. This wasn’t an appointment made by us.’
Mr. Tibbetts said that he understood that it was not the first time Mr. Gomez had acted as the temporary first official member.
Speaking after the House adjourned, Mr. Gomez told the Caymanian Compass that he had in fact acted as the temporary first official member many times, and even while he was Supervisor of Elections, a post he has held for 30 years.
Mr. Gomez said he had even served as temporary first official member while Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly was sitting in the House.
‘I find it a bit peculiar what happened today,’ he said. ‘Nobody has ever questioned it before.’
When Legislative Assembly resumed on Thursday an hour later than scheduled, Mr. Gomez was not there and no one else was in the Chief Secretary’s seat.
Mr. Glidden Jr., who was still acting as Speaker of the House on Friday, read a statement from Acting Governor George McCarthy.
‘The appointment of the Honourable Kearney Gomez to act as Chief Secretary… is not in contravention of the constitution… and is not in contravention of the separation of powers,’ said the statement.
‘There is no basis for the revocation of the appointment of the acting first official member.’
Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly called it ridiculous that the statement was read by Mr. Glidden Jr. and not by one of the official members of Cabinet.
‘I’m even more concerned this morning at the threat to democracy that we see playing out in Cayman Islands politics today,’ she said.
Shortly after the statement was read, Mr. Gomez took his seat as temporary first official member.