On the eve of the People’s Progressive Movement Government’s announcement of its proposals for a new constitution, Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush said the process is being rushed.
‘I don’t believe we can go and educate the public in three months’ time and go and have a memorandum,’ he said.
The PPM Government has stated that after it proposes its ideas for the new constitution tomorrow morning, it will hold a series of public meetings and consultations, culminating in a referendum in May 2008.
Mr. Bush said the United Democratic Party intended first to discuss the Government’s proposal within the party and then with certain people outside of the party. After those discussions, the opposition intends to hold roundtable discussions with the public, he said.
‘Time is short and I blame the PPM,’ he said, pointing specifically to the Government’s failure to progress the situation when the UK’s top civil servant in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sir Michael Jay, visited
Cayman in February 2006.
‘My position is that this country should not go and have a vote in May,’ he said. ‘This is a very important issue that will have an effect on the lives of people’s present and their future. Right now people are more concerned about their financial situation, their children and their businesses than the constitution. Things like the cost of living is what people are concerned about.’
Because of its importance to the country, Mr. Bush said the constitution issue needs wider discussion and the wider input of opinions.
‘They can’t go and expect us to jump up and have a vote in May,’ he said. ‘What’s they’re doing now is rushing this.’
Mr. Bush spoke of the UDP government’s proposal for the new constitution that he delivered as a party statement in Legislative Assembly July 2004.
He said the UDP’s position was the same as outlined then on many points, but that it changed on some points as a result of developments over the past three years.
‘The main thing [with the constitution] is to make sure Cayman is protected now and in the future,’ he said.
Mr. Bush outlined the UDP’s position on several points, stating first and foremost that the UDP does not want independence from the UK.
‘What we want is to modernise and strengthen our relationship with the UK to protect the Cayman Islands,’ he said. ‘We have to be able to… give the people some empowerment.’
In particular, the UDP wants to inhibit the UK’s ability to force legislation on Cayman that could be detrimental to the country, particularly its financial industry.
Giving an example, Mr. Bush spoke of the European Union Savings Tax Directive, which the UK extended to the Cayman Islands under the threat of an Order in Council. The UDP government cancelled constitutional talks with the UK in December 2003, believing the UK was trying to leverage those negotiations with Cayman’s acceptance of the EUSTD, Mr. Bush said.
‘The whole thing is, we believe our business community needs to be protected and that we need more say in our foreign affairs,’ he said. ‘We need to be involved in meetings when [the UK] is discussing things that they’re going to bind us to.’
Mr. Bush said the UDP also believes the Governor’s powers should be reduced, and that the Cayman Islands should not be forced to pay for things it does not agree to. In particular, Mr. Bush said the UDP disagreed that the Cayman Islands Government was forced by the Governor to pay former Attorney General David Ballantyne’s severance after the EuroBank trial debacle.
With regard to another constitutional matter, Mr. Bush said the UDP would still like to see a bi-partisan senate to review new legislation.
‘Far too often, we rush legislation and we don’t have anyone looking over our back,’ he said, adding that he believes an appointed senate would strengthen the House. ‘And it’s good for democracy.’
Although the senate members would receive pay for their services when they attend meetings, Mr. Bush believes the cost would be less than adding new members to the Legislative Assembly, particularly if there was a corresponding increase in the number of government ministries as well.
Mr. Bush said he would also like to see provisions for the establishment of district councils in the constitution.
‘It’s the only way the people can have a real say in the running of the country,’ he said. ‘This is what we’re hearing the people want.’
With regard to a bill of rights, the UDP government believes there should be one, but that it should be enshrined in law through legislation, not embedded in the constitution.
‘I think it’s safer for Cayman, being as small as we are and having the UK being connected to Europe the way they are,’ he said. ‘We need protection.’
Mr. Bush noted the UK doesn’t have a bill of rights embedded in a written constitution, so it wasn’t unreasonable for Cayman to request the same kind of arrangement with regard to the way it adopts human rights conventions.
Speaking at the Cabinet press briefing on Thursday, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts responded to the suggestion the constitution process was being rushed.
‘If we are going to say that is something we had not had dealings with before, then we can take the position,’ he said. ‘But the world knows we have dealt with it in depth before.
‘We’ve had a draft constitution come back to us from London, that’s how far we were with negotiations.’
Mr. Tibbetts said that time had passed so the government could not simply pick up where it left off in the constitution process. In addition, he said some events had occurred in the interim that had caused the government to want to re-look at certain positions stated in the previous draft constitution and it wanted to give the public a chance to give its views on those positions.
Mr. Tibbetts said four months is plenty of time if everyone were conscientious.
‘Certainly, if the public says to us this is not enough time to digest this, we have to respect that.’
However, Mr. Tibbetts said the government believes it can work with the timetable.
‘We believe the timing we have set out is practical,’ he said. ‘We will see if, as we move through the motions, exactly how it works and if there are any adjustments… we will make those adjustments. But we’re going let the public decide that, not just a few voices who may be crying in the wilderness.’