Finish constitution this time

As we all know, a few weeks ago the country restarted a conversation on modernising our constitution.

A conversation that was begun in 2002 and which included:

• Town hall meetings in all districts by both political parties;

• Several public meetings by the then Constitutional Commission, which lead to the creation of a set of suggested improvements to our constitution;

• Additional meetings to discuss the recommended constitutional changes;

• Petitions from the public for a referendum on any major proposed changes;

• A march of hundreds of people to the Glass House to deliver said petition;

• Proposed introduction of constituency boundaries;

• Position papers put forward from both political parties;

• Position papers of various NGOs and individuals;

• Debate in the LA on the Constitutional Commissioners report;

• Agreement between the political parties on the major issues;

• Meeting in the UK between the FCO and both political parties along with Caymanian NGOs;

• A draft revised constitution put forward in 2003 by the UK.

In effect, after a lot of discussion the country was in 2004 headed down the home stretch of having a modernised constitution with many agreed democratic improvements- including one-person one vote.

Of course we will recall that we awoke one day, opened our newspapers, only to read that Mr. Bush and his UDP had amazingly determined that they would go no further.

And so Mr. Bush decided to dash all the work done over an one-and-a-half years plus and advised the public that he could no longer be bothered with the needed constitutional changes – it was taking too long, he said.

Of course in 2004 we also had Hurricane Ivan and the ensuing rebuilding process; the 2005 elections; the immigration law debates etc, all which perhaps put the constitution from our minds for a time.

So here we are in 2008 looking to re-start the process.

Last time around Mr. Bush claimed that the process was taking too long. This time he claims we do not have enough time. Bear in mind many of these issues are not new.

Last time around Mr. Bush you agreed with many of the proposals that are now being discussed. This time around you claim that you do not agree with them. Which is it Mr. Bush?

Last time around you stated that the powers of the governor should be held in check – indeed you said that ‘… the governor plays an important ceremonial role, but the governor’s day-to-day position in some matters of government is outdated.’

Last time around Mr. Bush, you stated clearly your position that the country needed to be able to handle more of its affairs. You wanted to limit the powers of the governor. In fact you said that ‘… the governor’s role in Cabinet should be advisory and non-voting.’

You went on to add that ‘governors should not be able to override democratically elected leaders’ and that ‘ … the chief minister should preside over the governing council in place of the governor.’ All of these are contained in the current discussion papers.

Why then are you now claiming that the present government, with similar proposals, is seeking to strip the governor of his power and to seek independence? What were you trying to do back in 2004? Why are you now saying that as a people we are not ready to take more control of our own affairs? You clearly felt different a few years ago. What has changed Mr. Bush? Are you the same person who made the above statements during a constitution debate in the LA on 29 July, 2004?

But of course you are.

Mr. Bush, I believe that deep down in your core you know that the country is in need of a constitution that allows the people, through our elected representatives, to control our affairs and destiny more than we now do. I believe that you know deep in your core that we, the Caymanian people, are ready and want to have more control over our affairs. Granted we also want to ensure that checks and balances are included as well.

Mr. Bush I implore you to debate the real issues and not to rabble rouse and scaremonger. Please give the electorate the Opposition’s thoughts on what should be in the constitution. If by some chance your position has changed since 2004 and you truly believe that we are unable to handle more of our own affairs then please tell us why.

Fellow Caymanians, we need to ensure that we continue to use our good senses and listen to all sides, ignore the rhetoric, and ask questions.

We will insist that the UDP play its part in a responsible manner and provide real debate rather than baseless accusations – and if current positions differ from past positions then why? Similarly if our government has changed position on an area since 2004 then we should likewise ask them why. And if there are positions that the government has taken that we do not agree with then we will let them know.

We need to take the time now to familiarise ourselves with the issues. Attend the various meetings; listen to all sides of the debate; ask questions; have our say and make up our own minds individually.

We started this process together in 2002 and there was broad agreement on many of the issues now being proposed.

We now have another chance to again let our voices be heard. Let’s use this time well and as we restart this process let’s try to finish it this time.

Roy Tatum