The Cayman Islands is usually left out in the cold when it comes to the Mother Country signing on to treaties that could have impact here.
That was the general mood at the constitutional review meeting held Monday night at the North Side Civic Centre.
Staff members from the Constitutional Secretariat and members of the Peoples Progressive Movement Party – the sitting government – are holding town hall-style meetings in each district to explain constitutional proposals in the country’s efforts to modernize its 1972 constitution.
Highlights of the proposals include human rights, future makeup of the Legislature, the future of the executive branch, responsibilities of the governor; future duties of officers, oversight bodies, elections, referendums and constitutional amendments.
While all of the topics are addressed at each meeting, those in attendance from each district have unique concerns.
One topic of discussion Monday night was external affairs and how they relate to the Cayman Islands, the governor and the United Kingdom.
‘One of the proposals in this document is that there needs to be greater dialogue between the Cayman Islands local government and the United Kingdom simply because with their government in the United Kingdom, they are looking after their own policy positions. They are members of various international bodies. Where does Cayman feature in all this? Some of these policies may be contrary to our position as a country,’ said Susan Bothwell, director of the secretariat.
There was consensus that the Cayman Islands should have input on treaties the UK signs on to that have a bearing on the Cayman Islands.
People for Referendum member Billy Adam has been attending all of the constitutional meetings and raising various issues.
‘We in the Cayman Islands are unaware of all the treaties that the UK has already signed us up for,’ he said. ‘There is no comprehensive list.’
Ms Bothwell said such a list exists, but it is not necessarily published.
She suggested that a member of the public file a Freedom of Information request with the attorney general to obtain such a list.
‘This country’s government has to know exactly what treaties it signed on to,’ she said.
FOI won’t work, Mr. Adam said.
‘I don’t think that we have really begun to understand openness and transparency and it’s this secrecy that has people worried,’ he said. ‘The public needs to know what’s going on. Does a list exist? Publish it. We don’t need Freedom of Information. We need honesty.’
Minister Charles Clifford thanked Mr. Adam for his remarks and assured him that his comments would be considered.
‘We need to require the United Kingdom government to consult with the Cayman Islands government before entering into any treaty that would in fact affect us and once you get to that point it would certainly address concerns you have,’ he said.
But North Side resident, former Member of the Legislative Assembly and of the Executive Council Ezzard Miller said while dialogue is important, it’s not enough.
‘I know nobody wants to talk about independence. As long as Britannia rules, Britannia rules,’ he said. ‘What we need is not dialogue. Anything the British government wants us to enter in; we have to debate in our Parliament before they sign us up.
‘We need to be masters of our own destination. As long as we have this relationship of Britannia rule we can’t talk about self determination because as long as somebody else has made a judgement on what you have already thought was self determination, then it is not self determination. What we need is some authority.’
But Minister Alden McLaughlin cautioned that as long as we are in a constitutional relationship with the UK, we have to make concessions.
‘We have to accept and understand there are certain constraints,’ he said.
A worrisome issue at the meeting was the power of the governor over the citizens of the Cayman Islands.
There are five elected ministers and three non-elected officers in Cabinet, which is chaired by the governor.
‘Ministers don’t have an opportunity as citizens of this country to hold any of those three accountable,’ Mr. Clifford said.
‘I as a citizen cannot elect three members of Cabinet and they make the decisions that govern me as a citizen with no accountability to me as a citizen,’ Minister Arden McLean said. ‘I as a minister go in there and I am accountable first to the people of East End and second to the people of this country. These three civil servants sit there…and no one can move them, but they dictate your destiny.’
North Side resident John B. Smith said that information was worrying and asked if the governor has a vote.
Mr. McLean said the governor does not get a vote, but he does push the agenda. The governor is bound constitutionally to accept advice from ministers on all domestic issues, but he is answerable to the UK secretary of state.
‘If the governor doesn’t want something dealt with he can say ‘I’m not going to put it on the agenda.’ We [Cabinet] really should not be in the hands of the UK,’ Mr. McLean said.
‘That sounds better to me,’ said Mr. Smith. ‘I agree with that.’
While the governor makes no physical vote in Cabinet, he does set the tone, said Mr. Miller.
‘The governor decides, ‘OK, we’ll vote this way…they’re his employees. They’re [chief secretary, attorney general and financial secretary] not employees of the citizens of the Cayman Islands. It’s dysfunctional if there is disagreement and the more educated Cayman gets the more disagreements we’ll have. I support the full ministry form of government,’ he said.
Before the discussion began Monday night Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts assured those in the audience that the proposals from Government are not set in stone, but rather a starting off point for talks.
‘What we present to London will certainly reflect the aspirations of all the people of the Cayman Islands,’ he said, repeating his stance that the Cayman Islands is not seeking independence from the UK.
‘We do not wish to change the constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom. Thirty-five years have passed and we’ve kind of grown up. We believe we need to have a very careful look at our constitution. We can handle some more of our own affairs.’
The constitutional review meetings will continue next Monday at 7pm in the Family Life Centre in George Town.