The opposition United Democratic Party set out its views Monday on what the country’s new governing document should contain, a week before scheduled negotiations with the United Kingdom on Cayman’s constitutional reform plans.
Later that day the ruling People’s Progressive Movement announced it had agreed to meet with UDP members on Thursday morning at the Bodden Town Civic Centre to discuss differences in their respective plans.
The 10am meeting will be open to the public and the press. Members of invited non-governmental organisations are also expected to attend.
The opposition’s proposal was released around noon Monday by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush following a gathering of UDP elected officials in the Legislative Assembly building.
Members of the ruling People’s Progressive Movement did not attend the meeting, which was announced Friday afternoon in a letter from Mr. Bush. Members of the Cayman Islands Ministers Association and the Cayman Islands Mission of Seventh Day Adventists were not in attendance either. A representative from the Chamber of Commerce attended briefly to receive a copy of the UDP’s proposals.
The two churches and the chamber will be sending representatives to talks with the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Those talks are set to begin on Monday, 29 September.
UDP members said they were disappointed the ruling government members didn’t show up Monday, but they offered to meet anytime before the UK talks start. Mr. Bush said he preferred to hold that meeting in a formal setting with the public in attendance so that there would be a record of what was said.
‘I don’t want to have a meeting where there are no real records,’ Mr. Bush said.
PPM officials said Mr. Bush’s offer of a Monday gathering, coming as it did on a Friday afternoon, less than three days before the proposed meeting time was ‘as astonishing as it was disingenuous.’
‘It is disappointing and most unfortunate that the opposition has left this most important matter to virtually the eleventh hour,’ a statement from the PPM read. ‘Notwithstanding this, however, the government will now carefully consider the opposition’s paper with a view to narrowing the issues between us.’
The government had insisted on seeing UDP proposals before meeting with opposition members.
The UDP plan
UDP members agree with the PPM that Cayman’s constitution should be modernised, and also agree that the country should not seek independence from the United Kingdom.
The opposition party also wants to establish a bill of rights in the Cayman Islands, but UDP members prefer that document as a separate piece of legislation rather than enshrining it as a permanent part of the constitution. The opposition was not specific about what individual rights should be protected under the bill.
‘The community has made it clear that any bill of rights must not conflict with its morals and values,’ the UDP statement said.
Government proposals to make the Legislative Assembly and Cabinet ‘fully ministerial,’ in other words consisting entirely of elected members, are not supported by the UDP. The opposition largely favours leaving the overriding legislative powers of Cayman’s appointed governor in place.
The opposition also does not support handing over the reins of Cabinet to the country’s elected chief minister. Right now, the Cayman Islands Governor chairs Cabinet and controls what issues are discussed in its meetings.
The UDP also wants to create a second legislative body made up entirely of appointed members. UDP officials have theorised this senate, as it is called, could be made up of nine appointees; four from the ruling government, three from the opposition, and two picked by the governor.
The appointed body would not usurp the lawmaking privileges of the Legislative Assembly, but rather would work as a sort of auxiliary brain for the elected government; checking the work of the Legislative Assembly and reviewing certain issues with regard to proposed legislation.
‘The senate would bring enhanced accountability and quality to the government’s law and policymaking procedures by drawing on highly knowledgeable persons within the community,’ the UDP plan stated.
The UDP wants the governor to continue to have substantial control over the operations and strategies employed by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
‘The opposition believes that there are already channels via which the commissioner of police and any other relevant authority makes representations to the Cabinet at the request of Cabinet, and therefore the elected members who are accountable to the people are already involved on matters of national security,’ the UDP proposal stated.
Opposition members support the establishment of a Legal and Judicial Services commission within the constitution, but are uncertain about why two of the members on the commission must be chosen by the ruling party and the opposition party.
The PPM has proposed the six person commission be made up of the country’s chief justice, president of the court of appeal, a member of the law society, a member of the bar association, and the two political appointees.
‘It would seem preferable for the commission to be appointed independent of the political apparatus, if possible,’ according to the UDP plan.
The UDP supports the creation of an office for the director of public prosecutions to operate independently from the attorney general. However, it does not support limiting the role of the attorney general within the Cayman Islands government as the PPM has proposed.
The UDP wants to keep voter eligibility requirements as they exist today. However, members suggested making it simpler for voters to register – fearing that the deadline for determination of voting age in December may disenfranchise those who turn 18 between then and 20 May; the general election date.
The UDP does not support the creation of single member voting districts in Grand Cayman. However, it does support the creation of smaller sub-groups known as district councils, which would essentially act as local advisory boards for the elected members of the Legislative Assembly.
The opposition also supports voter-initiated referendums, and wants any further changes to the constitution to require a referendum before being implemented.