The United Democratic Party wants the People’s Progressive Movement government to delay the planned May referendum concerning Cayman’s proposed new constitution.
Speaking Tuesday evening to a crowd of about 120 people in Celebration Square next to the court building, George Town UDP Chairman Stefan Baraud said he was thinking to himself before the meeting that if not a lot of people turned up, it would mean people were comfortable with the direction the constitutional modernisation process was heading.
‘However, if the turn-out tonight was significant, so too should be our concerns,’ he said. ‘So, the way I see it, we have a significant group of concerned people here.’
Mr. Baraud then addressed what would become a theme for the meeting: that Cayman needs more time before a referendum on the constitution can be held.
He said the contents of the constitution were not for the PPM or UDP to determine, but for the citizens of the country to determine.
‘I can assure you, given the time we have left to make a decision on our constitutional fate, no government will be able to inscribe all the wishes of the people,’ he said. ‘Therefore, if there is one thing I can impress upon you this evening, it is if you speak with anyone on the subject of the constitution, let them know we need more time to fully understand and craft a document – a document for the people, by the people.’
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush then spoke and said Cayman stood at a crossroads.
‘The decision as to which path we take will determine our future, the future of our children, and generations to come.’
Mr. Bush said the crossroads presents two clear paths.
‘One is a path, which would place much more power in the hands of the elected leaders of any government today or one which may be chosen in the future,’ he said. ‘This is a path the United Kingdom has clearly indicated will take us down a short road to independence.
‘Or two, we can stay the course, which has served us well and which will provide our elected leaders with no more powers than they already enjoy.’
Mr. Bush said choosing the wrong path would have devastating results now and in the future.
Calling for a political system that maintains checks and balances, Mr. Bush cited a quote suggesting that any man endowed with power will use and abuse that power until met with limits.
‘The present PPM government has clearly demonstrated over the last three years that the check and balances and limits to their power, which have been provided by our present system of government, have been a saving grace for our country.’
Mr. Bush said the PPM is proposing to severely limit the powers of the governor and to make his decision subject to judicial review.
‘They want to restrict the independence of the commissioner of police; to appoint a body which will be largely filled by their own people to appoint members of our judiciary; and to remove the attorney general and other non-elected and non-partisan members of the present system from the decision-making process.’
Mr. Bush said what the PPM is proposing in the constitution will take Cayman on the road to independence.
‘The United Kingdom has specifically told us that if we want these powers, we must set a date for independence,’ he said. ‘This, ladies and gentlemen, is not the path we recommend and we need to vote no!’
Speaking about the proposed May referendum, Mr. Bush said the constitution would be the document that would provide the foundation for Cayman’s government systems and the foundations of freedom and liberty here.
‘[The PPM] want you to vote on a very, very important document without giving you the opportunity of examining the very text of the draft document itself.’
Mr. Bush said that despite the differences that Cayman has had with the United Kingdom from time to time, the present constitutional arrangement was of such a nature that the people of the islands could continue to enjoy the prosperity and way of life they have come to know
‘The perceived disadvantages of our present constitution are better than any rushed constitutional advancement at this time,’ he said. ‘After all our consideration and listening to the people, it is our view that a lot of time should be taken to consider the path with the PPM is proposing.’
Mr. Bush called on the PPM to prepare and present to the people a fully drafted proposed constitutional document.
‘Only after consideration of all the various clauses of this document can our people be fully informed of its various provisions and true intentions.
‘In my view, it is not possible to conduct a debate and referendum on proposals that have been reduced to a few documents.’
West Bay MLA Rolston Anglin said the constitutional modernisation process should be about the country and about moving forward the way the people desired.
He said the PPM had decided to start the process without consulting with the Opposition to discuss the way forward.
‘We could have moved forward in unity,’ he said.
Mr. Anglin noted that Bermuda took 40 years to get to single member constituencies, one of the provisions the PPM is advocating in its constitution proposal.
‘Bermuda phased [one man, one vote] in,’ he said. ‘They didn’t rush it.
‘We need a lot more time.’
Mr. Anglin said the wholesale changes to the constitution were bound to confuse referendum voters.
‘If you don’t know, vote no,’ he said.
Fellow West Bay MLA Cline Glidden Jr. said the PPM was saying they did not advocate independence and that they were just asking for what other British Overseas Territories obtained in their constitutions.
However, Mr. Glidden said leaders in countries like the Turks and Caicos Islands had made it quite clear they are indeed on the fast track to independence, with the consent of the public.