PPM makes Constitution pitch

The People’s Progressive Movement government released a discussion paper outlining its proposed positions for a new Constitution during a public event Saturday at Pedro St. James Castle.

Speaking at the Cabinet press briefing the day before, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts stressed that the summary of proposals document was not necessarily what would be voted on in the referendum in May.

‘It is simply a starting point,’ he said. ‘We have come up with what we believe is the best and most fair positions with what pertains today.

‘We are saying to the country, ‘please use this as your starting point. Wherever you don’t agree, we want to hear and we want to hear why’. We’re not suggesting this is the document that we have to take to London.’

The summary of proposals starts with the assumption the Cayman Islands wishes to remain an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.

‘We believe that there is no desire in the country to seek independence,’ the 12-page document states.

It is also proposed to keep the current Westminster System of government without the introduction of a non-elected Senate, as previously proposed by the United Democratic Party during the last administration.

‘We feel we should be developing and improving the present system, not experimenting with different systems,’ the document states.

With regard to human rights, the PPM government suggests having a bill of rights included in the Constitution.

‘Having these rights in our Constitution has the advantage of Caymanising our rights; adding rights based on our own aspirations, such as respect for our heritage and environment, the right to government information, the right to be treated fairly by all public officials and the rights of children to not be exploited.’

The PPM government also propose to change the name of the Legislative Assembly to Parliament of the Cayman Islands and to refer to MLAs as Members of Parliament, or MPs.

The title leader of government business would be changed to premier, or possibly to chief minister, and the PPM also wants provisions in the Constitution for a deputy premier.

The summary of proposals suggests a full ministerial government of seven elected ministers including the premier. It proposes the attorney general no longer be a member of Cabinet, although he would be required to attend meetings of Cabinet and Parliament in an advisory role.

The PPM government wants the new constitution to limit the circumstances in which the UK could enact legislation applicable to the Cayman Islands. In addition, it is proposed that the governor consult with Cabinet in advance of any international agreement involving the Cayman Islands, and obtain the approval of the Cabinet if the agreement would affect internal policy or require the implantation of legislation here.

The PPM government also suggests lessening the responsibilities of the governor in several ways, including having the premier set the agenda for Cabinet meetings and chairing those meetings as well.

Although the summary of proposals states it is essential the civil service remain independent of political influence, the PPM wants the Constitution to make it clear the civil service has the responsibility for implementing government policy as directed by the Cabinet, except by the governor in the execution of his special defined responsibilities.

It is proposed the governor be required to exercise his powers for the benefit of the Cayman Islands and in a way that is justified and proportionate, and to communicate the reasons for his actions to the premier.

The PPM proposes the new Constitution contain a provision for the establishment of a National Security Council to advise the governor on questions concerning internal security and the police.

‘The governor should act in accordance with this advice unless he considers it would be contrary to Her Majesty’s interests,’ the documents states.

The proposed National Security Council would be comprise the governor as chairman, the premier, the attorney general, the commissioner of police and two other ministers appointed by the governor in accordance to advice from the premier.

With regard to the judiciary, the PPM proposes the establishment a Judicial and Legal Services Commission that would, among other things, appoint judges and magistrates and the director of public prosecutions, which would be a new post. The director of public prosecutions would have responsibility for all criminal prosecutions, a responsibility currently held by the attorney general.

It is proposed the primary responsibility of the attorney general be as the principal legal advisor to the Cabinet.

The summary of proposals also suggests adopting the one person, one vote principle when it comes to elections. It proposes the establishment of 15 single-member constituencies on Grand Cayman, with Cayman Brac and Little Cayman remaining a single constituency that elects two candidates. All voters on all islands, however, would only vote for one candidate. This proposal would increase the members of parliament from 15 currently to 17.

The summary of proposals document notes that for practical reasons the changes might not come into effect before the 2009, but would apply to all elections after that.

As it has stated in the past, the PPM also wants the new Constitution to provide for public-initiated referendums with petitions signed by at least 20 per cent of the electorate. Referendums are proposed to be binding if passed by more than half of the electorate, and advisory if passed by a lower percentage.

Mr. Tibbetts reiterated that the summary of proposals was only to get discussions started.

‘Picture yourself coming to a meeting and not having anything to look at; not having anything to start the brain working; not having anything to compare… and [then] we don’t get the right result. That’s the purpose of it.’

Although the proposals made in the document are those of the PPM government, Mr. Tibbetts does not want to see the Constitution referendum politicised.

‘This exercise is not about the few of us who are directly involved in the political arena,’ he said. ‘It is about the people of this country.’

Mr. Tibbetts said the purpose of the referendum was to ensure that whatever the constitution negotiating team went to London with reflected the wishes of the people.

‘We are going to be very unfair to the people of this country if we try to cloud the issue about whose side who is on,’ he said. ‘This is not about sides. This is about issues and what the people want in their Constitution, and the form of government they want and the level of autonomy they want.’

With regard to the format of the referendum, Mr. Tibbetts said the details had not all been worked out yet. However, he said it was not likely the public would be asked to vote on a slate of individual issues.

‘We have to be practical about a referendum,’ he said. ‘If it were to take the form of a slew of individual questions, it would be far too confusing to bring about a practical result.’

Since the UK requires whatever the Cayman Islands Constitution negotiating team brings to London to reflect the wishes and aspirations of the vast majority of the country’s citizens, parameters will have to be set to define the results of the referendum.

‘The parameters… will decide, for instance, what percentage of voters is required to turn up for the referendum to trigger negotiations,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘If that does not happen, then we go back to the drawing board.’

Mr. Tibbetts also pointed out that even if a referendum is passed by a clear mandate, there is no guarantee the new Constitution would include all the points contained in the referendum.

‘The referendum cannot indicate the end result of a Constitution because we still have certain hurdles to overcome by way of negotiations [with the UK].’

However, Mr. Tibbetts does not believe the negotiations with the UK will lead to something entirely different than what the public votes for in the referendum.

He noted that Cayman had the benefit in recent times of two new Constitutions agreed to by the UK for its Overseas Territories in the Turks and Caicos Islands and the British Virgin Islands, and thus it knew the UK’s disposition on certain issues.

Mr. Tibbetts urged the public to be active participants in the public consultation that will last from now until the end of April.

‘Your views – that is the views of the public – matter most,’ he said. ‘The process will be incomplete if the views and opinions of the people are not represented before the referendum and before the government begins negotiations with the United Kingdom.’

In addition to the summary of proposals document, a second document is available which explains the PPM government’s position on each of the topics raised in the first document. A copy of those explanatory notes is available at the office of the Constitutional Review Secretariat on the second floor of Elizabethan Square.