Negotiations between the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom on constitutional reform are expected to start in the last week of September, according to a timeline set by the ruling People’s Progressive Movement government.
But the opposition United Democratic Party has indicated that it would prefer those talks to begin in mid-October.
Government leaders are planning to include up to four elected members of the UDP in talks with UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office representatives, but it’s apparent both sides have a long way to go before reaching some sort of compromise on their varying views.
‘There are but few issues we will have to deal with London,’ Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said. ‘It’s simply a matter of us agreeing amongst ourselves.’
Mr. Tibbetts said he would like to have a list of constitutional proposals from the opposition party, at the latest by the end of this month, so the two sides can iron out differences in September prior to the UK talks.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said he wants to host meetings on the issue before sitting down with the PPM, to gauge public sentiment. He has also repeatedly demanded that the opposition be given funding and be allowed more representation by the Constitutional Review Secretariat in getting the views of the UDP out to the public.
‘The government has spent $1.5 million on the secretariat and we haven’t seen a penny,’ Mr. Bush said during a telephone interview Thursday.
The Cayman Islands negotiating team will be made up of a maximum four members from each political party, plus one representative each from the Chamber of Commerce, the Cayman Islands Ministers Association and the CI Mission of Seventh Day Adventists.
The group will be supported by constitutional law expert Jeffrey Jowell and the secretariat members.
Government ministers hope the talks with the UK can be completed in three or four sessions, the first of which will be held in the Cayman Islands.
The PPM had initially hoped to hold a referendum on its constitutional reform plans before proceeding with UK negotiations. However, plans for a summer referendum were scuttled because of an expected low voter turnout.
Mr. Tibbetts did not list all the specific areas in which the government and opposition have previously disagreed on constitutional matters. However, he gave one example, the creation of a second legislative body like a Senate in Cayman, as one government would not support.
The creation of a bi-cameral or two-house legislature is a UDP proposal.
‘That is something that we don’t see making a lot of sense, and being the right thing for the governance model of the country,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘Beyond that, I don’t think that there are any matters that we would not be able to compromise…to give the people of the country the best constitution they should have.’
Mr. Bush, for his part, opposes government plans to remove the attorney general from Cabinet and as a voting member of the Legislative Assembly. He also opposes PPM plans that he said would ‘strip the power of the governor.’ For example, one PPM proposal would change the constitution to allow any decisions made by the governor to be submitted to judicial review.
If a consensus on the constitution with the UK is reached during negotiations, a draft constitution will be prepared and made available for public review.
A straight ‘yes or no’ vote is then planned in a constitutional referendum scheduled for 20 May, 2009 – the same date as the Cayman Islands general election.