Constitution review process drags

Six months after Cayman’s government first said the public would be looking at a discussion paper on the island’s proposed constitutional reform officials have still not produced the document.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said last week that staff at the Constitutional Review Secretariat expected to have the proposal ready to present at a series of public meetings by the end of November.

Mr. Tibbetts said the plans were delayed partly because of government’s desire to involve the public in the discussion process as much as possible, and partly because of the amount of day-to-day work government is required to do.

‘Not everyone on the island has the same idea as to the direction we should go or how far we should go,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘While we wish to achieve constitutional modernisation as swiftly as possible, we can’t stop the whole world to deal with constitutional modernisation.’

Just what constitutional modernisation will mean for Cayman is still vague. The discussion paper is expected to be a jumping off point for further discussions with the public, although the paper will be a strong indication of where the current government wants to go.

‘The document . . . will represent what this government thinks the constitution ought to look like in its final form,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said.

However, both Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Tibbetts agreed that the process should not be driven by the government but rather by the public who they said would eventually vote on the agreement which local leaders will take to the UK.

‘The nation has to be involved in the process, we have to be satisfied that the citizens of this country are educated as to what the ramifications are,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘We’re not going to sacrifice that learning process . . . just to get results quicker, and not be sure that those results reflect the wishes and aspirations of the public.’

The ruling People’s Progressive Movement party has been criticised for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the formation of a secretariat office to organise the constitutional review. Some opposition party officials have also questioned the need for such a lengthy debate on the subject.

Minister McLaughlin said constitutional reform efforts in other UK Overseas Territories have suffered from rushed deliberations.

‘Whether what we’re doing makes that better in Cayman, we don’t know. The jury is still out on that,’ he said. ‘But (public involvement) is what we’re attempting to do.’

The key issue in constitutional reform is how much more autonomy the local government will be given in dealing with areas that are now controlled by the governor’s office.

The governor currently appoints the island’s chief secretary, attorney general and financial secretary, with the advice of elected Cabinet ministers. The chief secretary’s office has direct control over the civil service, as well as the portfolio of internal and external affairs which includes the police, fire, immigration and customs services.

The question is how much more control constitutional change will give elected leaders in those areas. Options range from relatively minor changes, such as the appointment of a public safety commissioner who would report to elected officials; to complete autonomy and political independence for the Cayman Islands.

‘Part of the constitutional modernisation process will be forward movement with more autonomy,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘The world knows that. London knows that.’

Government officials have been reluctant to discuss the possibility of independence for Cayman, and Mr. Tibbetts has previously said he believes most Caymanians would not be in favour of it.

But Mr. Tibbetts acknowledged in April that he would support total independence if the people of Cayman indicated they wanted it.

‘We would have no choice, if that were the indication,’ he said. (Caymanian Compass, 27 June) ‘And I’m not a betting man, but I’d place a bet with you now that it wouldn’t be.’