Cabinet chairman an issue

Former United Democratic Party cabinet minister and Speaker of the House Linford Pierson said Monday he was largely in agreement with the constitutional changes proposed by the People’s Progressive Movement government.

Mr. Pierson spoke from the audience at constitutional review meeting at the Family Life Centre on the invitation of Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts.

‘With the exception of one or two issues, I think we are on the right track,’ Mr. Pierson said of the proposed constitution. ‘It is time that we upgrade our constitution and get something that is in keeping with the development of the Cayman Islands.’

With regard to his reservations on particular issues in the constitution, Mr. Pierson indicated he has some concerns about the proposal for who should chair cabinet meetings; on single member constituencies; and on who should be eligible to stand for election.

The issue of single member constituencies and who should be able to run for election has been raised consistently throughout the public consultation process. Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin said it was the first time he had heard any concern over who should chair cabinet meetings.

Under the PPM proposal, the premier would chair and set the agenda for cabinet meetings. Currently the governor does both things.

Mr Pierson suggested looking at the major differences between the constitutional changes proposed by the PPM and the constitutional provisions other Overseas Territories like the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands have already successfully negotiated.

‘I don’t’ believe either one of those territories have the premier chairing cabinet,’ he said.

Mr. Pierson said he hoped the issue wouldn’t become a sticking point because in his experience as a cabinet member for seven years, having the governor chair cabinet meetings never prevented the elected government from doing what it thought best.

‘I don’t recall a governor having the guts to ever refuse the wishes of cabinet,’ he said. ‘He wouldn’t have been there long if he had because he would have been recalled.’

Mr. McLaughlin agreed that in his brief experience in cabinet the governor had never refused to at least eventually put a cabinet paper on the meeting agenda.

‘But there have been issues with delays and where papers have been turned back,’ he said, adding that he was aware that some governors in the past had refused to put cabinet papers dealing with certain issues on the agenda.

Mr. Tibbetts said the issue wasn’t about any specific governor, but about constitutional responsibility.

‘Not every governor will have the same disposition,’ he said. ‘Not every governor will have the same patience. Sometimes they can get crass.

‘It’s better to have clarity in the role of the governor rather than having to depend on his good will to get things done.’

Mr. McLaughlin explained that the governor would still be allowed to attend cabinet meetings in a non-voting capacity and that he would retain his special responsibilities with regard to public order, public faith and good governance.

‘If [the governor] felt something was really wrong with a decision of cabinet, he could exercise his special responsibilities,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.

‘He wouldn’t do that in cabinet, he would exercise them with the [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] and they would take whatever actions they needed to.’

Mr. McLaughlin also pointed out that there would be little reason for the governor to disagree with a cabinet decision.

‘What happens in cabinet generally doesn’t have anything to do with good governance issues,’ he said. ‘On matters of domestic policy, the governor is supposed to accept the advice of cabinet unless it prejudices the UK’s interest in some way.’

Mr. McLaughlin said he did not feel asking for the premier to chair cabinet meetings – or any of the other PPM proposals – was radical.

‘We don’t regard any of the issues we have proposed as deal-breakers,’ he said. ‘The UK might not agree and probably won’t agree with everything we put forward, but that’s not to say it’s a deal-breaker.’

In addition, all of the proposals put forward by the PPM have been vetted by the government’s constitutional attorney, Professor Jeffrey Jowell, Mr. McLaughlin said.

‘A lot of these proposals, Professor Jowell suggested.’