Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts wants to know what his rival political party’s views are on constitutional reform.
But it seems those views may not be delivered as quickly as he would like.
A letter read out during a Tuesday press conference by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, which was sent by Mr. Tibbetts on Monday, 3 March stated: ‘I am writing to ask you to let us have, as soon as possible, the opposition’s specific suggestions for the modernisation proposals to be put to the country in the referendum, and to be the basis (if the referendum is in favour) for the negotiations with the UK government.’
Mr. Bush had previously said his party would release its own plans for constitutional modernisation by the end of February. However, during the press conference, he declined to give a date for when those plans might be released.
‘These things cannot be done overnight,’ he said.
Opposition MLA Rolston Anglin also voiced concern about the timing of the letter from the Leader of Government Business.
‘Perhaps this letter should have been at the beginning of this process instead of at the very tail end,’ Mr. Anglin said.
Mr. Tibbetts said during a press conference Thursday that to have sent the letter a year ago would have been self-defeating for the constitutional modernisation process.
The 3 March letter asked that the United Democratic Party’s proposals be submitted by 10 March so that the two political parties could get together by 17 March to discuss the issues.
‘This meeting, we envisage, would be similar to our November 2002 summit,’ the letter stated.
‘Oh, what a fiasco that was,’ Mr. Bush commented, while reading the letter to the press conference.
Mr. Tibbetts’ stated that he hoped government ministers and opposition members could arrive at some consensus on constitutional reform proposals.
Based on the UDP’s constitutional modernisation plan from earlier in this decade, it appears the parties have some dispute over several key issues.
First, Mr. Bush has said on numerous occasions that the UDP does not support single member voting districts. Right now, Caymanian candidates run for office in the political districts of George Town, West Bay, Bodden Town, East End, North Side and the Sister Islands. Those who receive the most votes are elected to the available positions; for instance, the district of West Bay elects four representatives, so the four highest vote-getters running in that district would be sent to the Legislative Assembly.
The current system allows members of various political groups to run for office as a team, rather than running as individual candidates.
The ruling People’s Progressive Movement supports single-member districts in all areas with the exception of the Sister Islands.
The PPM also believes there should be just one ruling, elected body in the Legislative Assembly. The UDP has previously supported a two house, or bicameral system, which includes a Senate made up of appointed members.
The UDP has also criticised a section of the government’s reform plan which would allow first-generation migrants to run for political office, if they receive Caymanian Status and live here 20 of the 25 years after obtaining that status. PPM officials have recently said that plan does not appear to have the support of the majority of voters.
Since January, there has been bickering among the two parties over the subject of how much autonomy the government is seeking in its constitutional proposals. Mr. Bush has accused the PPM of trying to gain ‘independence through the back door.’
Those statements have been characterised as ‘scare mongering’ by top PPM officials, who recently challenged Mr. Bush to define what he meant by independence. He declined to do so Tuesday, advising the government to check with the UK about what it considered independence.
Mr. Anglin drew parallels between the constitutional reforms Cayman was seeking and those given to Bermuda and more recently the Turks and Caicos Islands.
‘The Bermuda constitution is indeed a pre-independence constitution, all of us know that,’ Mr. Anglin said. ‘They have gone to the point in some of their proposals to equal what Bermuda has constitutionally. If the government is going to make requests that are equal to the territory of Bermuda and they turn around and admit that the territory of Bermuda is in a pre-independence constitutional state; isn’t that proposal a pre-independence constitutional request?’
Education Minister Alden McLaughlin recently noted that Bermuda has not gone independent despite having a ‘pre-independence’ constitution for decades.
‘It is obvious that he (Mr. Bush) is simply making every attempt in the world to try to scare the people not to participate because of the position he finds himself politically at this point and time, and he wishes for this government not to succeed in the constitutional modernisation process,’ Mr. Tibbetts said during a press briefing last week.
Mr. Tibbetts’ letter, as read by Mr. Bush, was more conciliatory.
‘I hope very much that you and the other opposition members will agree to work with us. This should not be a politically divisive subject. We need to work together.’
‘I have no personal grudge against the Leader of the Opposition.’