The day of the referendum on the People’s Progressive Movement’s proposed changes to the constitution will likely be a public holiday.
‘I think it will be,’ said Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts on Friday.
The comment came moments after the current meeting of the House resumed just long enough for Mr. Tibbetts to read a statement refuting a front-page story in Cayman Net News last Thursday under the headline ‘Referendum vote set for 30 July’.
‘I must tell this House and the wider community that the headline and much of the story that follows is simply untrue,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘The Government has thus far set no date for the proposed referendum on constitutional modernisation.
‘We expect to make an announcement with regard to that matter very shortly.’
Mr. Tibbetts also refuted the part of the Net News story that claimed ‘The assembly opened debate on the changes and launched the required three readings of the bills [Wednesday 18 June]’. The bills the newspaper referred to were the Referendum (Constitution Modernisation) Bill, 2008 and the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2008.
‘As this House will be aware, this is simply untrue,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘The two bills in question were delivered to the clerk of the Legislative Assembly on 22 May, 2008, and circulated to members shortly thereafter.
‘They have not been placed by the Business Committee of this House on any Order Paper and have not been dealt with in any way by the House.’
The Net News story claimed the bills were tabled in the Legislative Assembly 13 June, but, as Mr. Tibbetts pointed out, the House had been in Finance Committee for the past month and had no opportunity to deal with bills.
‘To say that the House has ‘opened debate… and launched the required three readings of the bills…’ is complete and utter fabrication,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.
With regard to the date of the referendum, it was in some ways logical to assume it would take place Wednesday, 30 July, as Cayman Net News claimed. The government announced last month the referendum would take place in the latter part of July. In addition, elections traditionally have occurred on Wednesdays here.
Mr. Tibbetts stopped short of saying the referendum would indeed be held on a Wednesday.
‘I don’t know that for sure,’ he said. ‘But Wednesdays are normally good days for those matters.’
Wednesday, 30 July, however, might have been too soon for the referendum to be held, based on the provisions of Section 3(2) of The Referendum (Constitution Modernisation) Bill.
The Elections Office issued a notice Thursday clarifying the provisions of that section of the proposed law.
‘Once the law is passed, assented to by the Governor and comes into effect, the Governor in Cabinet will, by notice published in the Gazette, appoint a day for holding the referendum,’ the Elections Office stated, adding that the referendum date cannot be earlier than the 30th day following the date the notice is published.
Much would have to occur for that notice to be published by next Monday, 30 June, the last day possible for publication of the referendum day if it were to be held on 30 July. First, the House – which does not resume until Wednesday – would have to table the two bills and open them for debate after the second reading.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush said Friday he believed the Opposition would offer debate on both bills, although he did not know how much.
‘We’re still looking at the bills,’ he said, adding, however, that the Opposition would object to them.
Mr. Bush said it was conceivable the bills could pass in the House, gain the assent of the governor, get Cabinet approval for a notice to be published in an extraordinary Gazette by the following Monday.
‘But I just can’t see it happening,’ he said. ‘[The government] would be corrupting the democratic process just to get this thing done [by that date].’