Where are our statesmen?

Benjamin Franklin, following the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1787 said, ‘There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. …It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does…’

Great statesmen rarely make mistakes.

An Exco member once stood in the LA in defence of an ally and sternly declared something to the affect, ‘Tru Tru, you have my full support. I’m behind you on all fours’.

Politicians rarely get anything right.

Ordinarily this bodes ill for the country and the average citizen, powerless to do anything else, with glum resignation, checks his threadbare pockets for the cash to cover the latest screw-up; $12 million for Boatswain’s Beach, $6 million for the Heath Services Authority, $5 million for CINICO, $14 million for CAL and on and on.

These aren’t ordinary times in the Cayman Islands; however, and the little matter of a new constitution raises the stakes a tad for our current decision makers to actually get something right for a change.

Last Friday, Government, in a stunning flip-flop, extended yet again the seemingly interminable constitutional modernisation process into at least mid 2009 with the announcement that this summer’s planned referendum will now be held at the same time as next year’s General Elections.

Exasperated, I hadn’t the foggiest recollection when all this business started so I did some multislacking following the announcement and looked it up. No simple Google as my primary source for local news and information is the Caymanian Compass web site. Its online archives don’t reach nearly far enough back in time.

After more than a few mouse clicks, I was able to determine that the process was initiated in the previous century, October 1999, with the release of the Constitutional Modernisation Checklist by the Overseas Territories Department of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

It is an understatement to say a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Major world events that have occurred include September 11th, the Asian Tsunami and the Led Zeppelin reunion. Indeed, once in a lifetime watershed events have occurred right here in the Cayman Islands, Hurricane Ivan of course, the indiscriminate granting of Caymanian Status to thousands (something that will reverberate for generations) and the razing of Durty Reids.

Back when this started, our solar system had nine planets, Y2K computer paranoia gripped the gullible masses, hula hoops and bouffant hairdos were the rage, and a gallon of gas cost 39 cents (OK, maybe I’m getting a little carried away).

It took less time to build the Chunnel, for Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it took less time for Orville and Wilbur Wright to invent the aero plane, for Alexander the Great to conquer the known World, for the Allies to defeat the Axis in WWII, and it took less time for NASA to land a man on the moon.

There are those who continue to drone about the virtues of a deliberate, measured pace, but over eight and a half years and counting? Is that careful, considered progress or the paralysis of ineptitude?

The shear length of time the process has taken in and of itself speaks volumes to how poorly successive governments have handled constitutional modernisation. Friday’s announcement can rightfully be seen as yet another in a long train of premiership buck passing and big league hot potato tossing.

Perhaps I may attempt to sum up the feelings of a significant number of voters when I say, it’s time to fish or cut bait, (expletive) or get off the pot, speed up or get the hell out of the way and let someone with the intestinal fortitude just git ‘er done.

Presided over by George Washington, the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention drafted and ratified the United States Constitution, arguably one of the greatest documents ever devised for governance, over the span of one stifling Philadelphia summer. It took less than four months.

Politicians by their very nature are ill equipped to frame a document that must be so supremely noble, infinitely just, and profoundly sublime as a country’s constitution. That takes statesmen, true leaders, not years of hand wringing.

To be sure, we’re lousy with politicians. Are there any statesmen in the house? After Friday’s predictable disappointment, I’ll bet a Ben Franklin to the contrary. I’d gladly be proven wrong.

Gregory S. McTaggart

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