In its first public meeting on constitutional reform, the United Democratic Party accused the ruling People’s Progressive Movement of making a blatant power grab in it’s proposal to change Cayman’s governing document.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said the UDP supported making some changes in the constitutional arrangement with the United Kingdom to allow the Cayman Islands more authority to govern its own affairs.
However, he said the present government’s plan goes too far.
‘We do not ask for wholesale transference of the governor’s powers as is being proposed by the PPM,’ Mr. Bush told a group of about 150 people during a meeting at John Cumber Primary School hall Monday night.
A major area Mr. Bush disputed in the PPM’s proposal was one that would open all decisions by the governor to judicial review.
‘What are they telling him (the governor)? What they are really saying here is that the governor’s decision to call a commission of enquiry into one of their minister’s previous actions — would be delayed until the political side in power had an opportunity to challenge that decision. Where would justice be?’
Last week Mr. Bush accused the PPM government of attempting to get ‘independence through the back door’ during an appearance on a radio show. He echoed those statements on Monday night.
Government ministers lambasted Mr. Bush for those comments and accused him of fear-mongering.
‘It is not only irresponsible, it is wrong,’ said Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts. ‘The mood of the public of the Cayman Islands is not to seek anything like independence. We don’t wish to do anything such as to sever the ties between ourselves and the United Kingdom.’
‘If it’s someone else bringing (proposals for constitutional reform, Mr. Bush) is always going to be using this old argument that ‘oh, this is an attempt to get independence through the back door,’ Tourism Minister Charles Clifford said. ‘It’s nonsense.’
A review of the UDP’s proposals for constitutional reform in 2004, as set out in an official Hansard report from the Legislative Assembly, showed the government at that time wanted the governor selected jointly by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and elected members of the LA.
The measure also gave assembly members the ability to override the governor’s decision to block legislation if two-thirds of the members agreed that legislation should be passed into law.
The UDP’s plan would have established a chief minister, as opposed to a premier as suggested by the PPM. The chief minister would not have been subjected to term limits, as is proposed by the PPM.
The governor, chief secretary and financial secretary would have been non-voting members of Cabinet under the UDP’s proposal. Under the PPM’s plan, the financial secretary and chief secretary are not allowed to attend Cabinet at all.
‘The great fear that (the UDP) have is that this government…is going to deliver in due course to this country, with a popular mandate, a new constitution, which will take the country forward,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said. ‘We will see constant attacks on what we are doing, constant attempts to get this process delayed because they wish for the election to come in May 2009.’
‘We are not going to let Mr. McKeeva Bush and his cronies delay this process,’ he said.
Mr. Bush told the audience gathered in West Bay Monday night to consider carefully how far they wanted to take constitutional reform.
‘Advancement of our constitutional position, which gives the perception of independence, will not be beneficial to the economic prosperity which our islands have enjoyed the last 30 years,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘Political advancement in many countries, although it has been enthusiastically received, did not bring about economic benefits.’
‘In many instances, it led to the decline of the rule of law; politically engineered disunity amongst the population; political abuse of those who oppose particular groups in power and a host of other problems, which have led to a decline in the standard of living.’
Public discussions on the government’s constitutional reform proposals get started on 30 January at George Town’s Mary Miller Hall. Mr. Bush said the UDP would have more of its own meetings to review the constitution changes, but he did not specify when those would be held.
UDP meeting #1: Mssrs. McKeeva Bush, Cline Glidden, Rolston Anglin and Billy Reid discuss their plans for constitutional reform Monday night.
UDP meeting #2: About 150 people turned out to hear what the opposition had to say about the constitution changes.
Photos: Brent Fuller