Charting our own course

The Editorial in the Friday, 18 January, edition of the Net News titled ‘Constitutional Hoopla’ contained a few comments to which I feel compelled to respond.

The editor wrote that ‘the final position statement of the Cayman Islands government and people has to be realistic in the sense that it must conform to what we know at the outset Britain is likely to go along with….unless we present to Britain a proposed constitution in more or less the same terms as have already been negotiated in recent years with our sister Overseas Territories, the negotiation process itself is going to take months’.

This editorial has prompted me to ask, what is the hurry? So what if the negotiation period takes months? I believe that something as important as the constitution takes time to digest and decide; therefore, it should not be rushed.

I don’t remember anyone asking whether I wanted the right to petition the European Court of Justice for human rights; and yet it has been imposed upon us and is about to be enshrined in our constitution. In fact I don’t remember being asked if I wanted constitutional modernisation in the first place.

If the lessons of history are recalled, we should be careful of blindly adopting any constitutional draft that Britain gives us. A constitution based on what the British wants us to adopt cannot be in our best interests – such a constitution is likely to only benefit the UK.

We must never be misled into believing that the UK is interested in protecting our national interests- particularly when it comes to our financial industry. Have we forgotten the lessons of the Eurobank trial?

Some might point to this as one of the primary reasons why we need constitutional modernisation – and to some extent, they are right. However, we could protect our financial industry and have more control over our internal affairs by amending the current constitution; we don’t need a new constitution to achieve that.

The Discussion Paper and explanatory notes essentially strip the governor of most of his powers and give them to the premier. The premier will be a very powerful person. But who will monitor the premier? Where are the checks and balances? Can we honestly say that we are witnessing the kind of political maturity and statesmanship that would enable us to feel comfortable giving that kind of power to politicians at this time? I am not convinced that a new constitution will necessarily improve the governance of our country.

We also need to be cautious and sceptical about the rushed timeline that has been imposed upon us. Why are we rushing toward a referendum in May? And what process will be used to determine how the submissions of the Opposition and other NGO’s will be included in the referendum?

Up to this point, the entire constitutional process has been characterized by petty partisan politics and one-upmanship.

We need to call upon all of the leaders of this country to put aside their personal differences and work together in our best interest.

I am not sure that we are ready for the kind of constitutional modernisation that is being proposed, but when we do decide that we are ready, we must seek the kind of constitution that will suit us.

When I consider the implications of changing our constitution, I recognise we Caymanians enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the Western hemisphere and we are one of the leading financial centres in the world; yet all of these successes were achieved by our previous political leaders who worked patiently and tactfully within the parameters of the current constitution. So why do we need to change now? I believe that the problem has less to do with the current constitution and more to do with the inability or unwillingness of some of our current politicians to work within the same set of rules as their predecessors. It would appear to me that we are trying to introduce a new constitution simply because some of our politicians are losing a fight with the governor. The final outcome of any constitutional process should unquestionably reflect the will of the people and not just what our politicians or colonial masters want.

We need to allow more time for our people to become fully educated on all of their constitutional options.

Rather than hastily adopting a constitution Britain is likely to go along with, we must join together and disoblige those outside forces that would want to impose their will on us. We must push back against the constant assault on our values, culture and beliefs; and most of all we need to pray for our country and our political leaders.

These are very serious times indeed; the good ship Cayman is headed toward a hurricane but it seems that the crew is fighting amongst themselves. I honestly believe that our political leaders have the ability to lead us toward calmer waters; however, the question remains whether they will be able to do so without sinking the ship first.
Walling Whittaker