Constitution consultation begins

The first of 17 planned public meetings concerning the constitutional modernisation initiative took place Wednesday night at Mary Miller Hall.

Approximately 60 people attended.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts explained the purpose of the meetings was to get a public consensus on what a new constitution should look like.

‘This exercise is one whereby we wish to get input from the public to learn what their thoughts are and to make sure they are well informed… so whatever we end up with reflects the wishes of the majority of the public,’ he said, stressing that the governments stated position was just a starting point for discussions and was not ‘carved in stone’.

Mr. Tibbetts urged all members of the public to take part in the process.

‘This is something we all need to talk about because we need to get it right,’ he said.

An information session lead by Constitutional Secretariat Director Suzanne Bothwell was followed by a question and answer session.

In its first chance to weigh in with their views, members of the public expressed concerns about proposed changes regarding who can vote and who can be eligible to run for political office.

Mrs. Bothwell said there had been some confusion about who would be eligible to vote under the People’s Progressive Movement proposal.

The summary of proposals booklet recently released by the PPM states that with regard to the right to be registered as an elector, the existing requirements concerning residence, domicile and parentage would be replaced by a single residence requirement, for two out of four years preceding registration.

Cayman’s current Constitution contains a variety of qualification requirements for electors. Cabinet minister Alden McLaughlin said that during the constitution negotiations that took place in London in 2003, the United Kingdom’s position was that Cayman’s eligibility standards were too restrictive because more than half of the of the population was ineligible to vote.

Mr. McLaughlin said the UK did not want to see a situation where people could live here for 10 or 15 years or more and not have a right to have a say in their future because they could not vote.

After negotiations, the UK agreed to the compromised position that is reflected in the 2003 draft constitution, but only on the condition that Cayman would change its immigration laws in the near future to deal with the situation of long-term resident non-Caymanians, Mr. McLaughlin said.

Because the UK had already agreed to the compromise, Mr. McLaughlin said the PPM decided to stick with what was suggested in the 2003 draft constitution. However, an adjustment had to be made to reflect changes in the UK rules with regard to extending the eligibility to vote to those with Caymanian Status who have British citizenship by virtue of a connection with the Cayman Islands.

The proposed constitution would thus require an elector be: a) a Caymanian; b) at least 18 years of age; c) a British Dependent Territories Citizen by virtue of a connection with the Cayman Islands or a British Citizen by virtue of a connection with the Cayman Islands; d) resident in the Cayman Islands at the date he is registered as a voter; and, e) resident in the Cayman Islands for two out of four years immediately prior to the date he registered to vote.

One person at the public meeting noted that people who obtained Caymanian Status through Cabinet in 2003 would be eligible to vote sooner under the new proposal than they would under the old proposal, which required, in addition to Caymanian Status, that a person without a Caymanian parent or grandparent be resident in the Cayman Islands for seven of the nine years immediately prior to being registered to vote, and to have not been absent from the Cayman Islands more than 300 days in the three years prior to registering.

Even more controversial from the meeting attendee’s perspective was the fact that the under the new proposal, people who were not born Caymanian and did not have a Caymanian parent would be able to run for election if they resided in the Cayman Islands for 20 years out of the 25 years preceding their nomination.

Meeting attendee Rhodian Bodden said that prospect made him very nervous and he expressed concerns that a non-Caymanian-born person’s loyalties could lie elsewhere.

Mr. Bodden also noted that he already has to compete with expatriates in the workplace and in other places in Cayman society.

‘Now, in the future, I’m going to have to compete for the highest office in the land, too?’ he asked.

Mr. McLaughlin explained that the change was proposed to allow first generation Caymanians to run for elections.

‘Someone could have been born here, but was not born Caymanian because his parents weren’t Caymanian,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘But they grew up here, they speak like us, went to school here and are as Caymanian as any of us.’

Mr. McLaughlin said it was up to the public to decide whether the right to run for political office should be extended to a first generation Caymanian, or whether the right should be reserved for second generation Caymanians as it is now.

Mr. Bodden said he believed that by allowing the filter of time to pass – and requiring someone who wants to run for election to have a Caymanian parent – the question of loyalty would be answered

Mr. Tibbetts pointed out that under normal circumstances, the proposed change to the Constitution would require a non-Caymanian first become Caymanian – a process that takes 15 years – and then reside on the island for 20 out of 25 years after that before becoming eligible to run for election.

‘And that doesn’t include his age when he got here,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘I just want to make sure we get it into perspective.’