The United Democratic Party held a series of meetings last week to consult with the public about its wishes for the new constitution.
At a meeting in Savannah the Opposition lawmakers said Government’s argument that London has ceded many of the powers it is seeking to other British Overseas Territories and will therefore do so for Cayman, does not take account of the different political realities in some of those territories.
‘It’s easy to get up and say ‘this territory has this level of advancement, look at where we are economically; we should have the same as them’,’ West Bay MLA Rolston Anglin told a small crowd at the Savannah Primary School. “But we’re not taking into account the historical perspective of where they are at.
‘What suits Turks and Caicos; what suits Bermuda; what suits all the other territories is completely different. Bermuda has had an Independence Commission for a long time,’ he said.
Government members have been at pains to emphasise they have no appetite for political independence from the United Kingdom, but they have proposed giving elected legislators more political responsibility – a reflection, they have said, of Cayman’s growing political maturity.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush reiterated his claim that the new political powers sought by the PPM would lead Cayman down a road to independence.
‘I find it hard to support their type of modernisation,’ he said. ‘I am not going to be pushed down the road to independence. I am not,’ he said.
‘[The PPM] know what road goes to West Bay, they know what road goes to the rest of the districts. They know [where this will lead].’
Mr. Anglin said recent turmoil in Government demonstrated that Cayman is not ready to take more political responsibility on-board.
‘I’m not saying we shouldn’t modernise in some areas, because I believe we should, but we need to practice responsible governance each step of the way and make sure the pace of our modernisation is in line with where we are,’ he said.
‘Yes we can compare ourselves economically, but in terms of political and societal maturity, we have to be honest ourselves and say ‘we are not there yet’. That’s not any come down on Cayman, it’s just a reality.’
Mr. Bush hit out at the PPM’s proposal to remove the attorney general from Cabinet and the Legislative Assembly.
‘There does need to be a separation of some of his responsibilities,’ he said. ‘But as far as [removing the attorney general from] the Legislative Assembly is concerned, the United Kingdom is not going to remove the AG until they are ready to remove the Union Jack,’ he said.
He renewed his call for a new approach to constitutional modernisation, one that would be led by an independent Constitutional Review Secretariat not beholden the ruling government’s position on constitutional affairs.
‘Get an independent secretariat, get the NGO’s – the Chamber of Commerce, People for Referendum, service clubs – get the opposition and government and we all sit down and plan and take all these factors into consideration. Take our time and get something that will work for us.’
Despite the small turn-outs during this round of UDP constitutional meetings, Mr. Bush said it has been important to give the public a final chance to have their input ahead of constitutional negotiations with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office representatives on 29 September.
Opposition party legislators remain convinced that the People’s Progressive Movement Government’s constitutional proposals will set the Cayman Islands on a fast track to political independence.
Civil service concerns
In their consultations at John Cumber Primary School in West Bay, several attendees raised concerns with UDP lawmakers about whether the government’s constitutional reform plan would end up interfering with the impartiality of the Cayman Islands civil service.
The roughly 3,500 people employed in the civil service report directly or indirectly to Chief Secretary George McCarthy, an appointee of the governor to whom responsibility for that service is given.
In theory, there is a separation in the government service between elected ministers, their ministry staff, and the employees of departments and portfolios who carry out the day-to-day operations of central government.
However, the government’s constitutional reform plan would remove the chief secretary from Cabinet and from the Legislative Assembly, making the person who holds that position a chief officer under a new elected minister’s position.
The government’s plan would also remove the financial secretary from Cabinet, making that position a chief officer for a new Ministry of Finance.
‘Is there somebody there who is going to be representing the civil service?’ asked Jenny Manderson.
According to the government’s plan, the governor will have ultimate responsibility for the civil service. However, opposition MLA’s have questioned the practical implications of that proposal.
‘Under the (government) plan, the civil service is completely open for abuse,’ said Mr. Anglin told the meeting
Position on the PAC
During its Constitution consultation meeting at Mary Miller Hall, the topic of the Public Accounts Committee came up and Mr. Bush made the UDP’s views clear.
‘We want the PAC to be in the Constitution and the Leader of the Opposition or his designate to be the chairman, as is customary in the Commonwealth,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘We also want the auditor general to report to the PAC, as is customary in the Commonwealth.’
Although the Opposition members at the meeting – Mr. Bush, Mr. Anglin and West Bay MLA Cline Glidden Jr. – generally agreed that PAC meetings should be held in public and agreed with a constitutional provision saying so, Mr. Anglin said there could arise matters of national security or sub judicy that would necessitate testimony being held in camera.
Senate and district councils
The UDP also spoke about its belief that a senate and district councils should get constitutional backing at the Mary Miller Hall meeting.
‘Government is not supporting a senate,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘But a lot of young people understand it and like the idea.’
Mr. Bush asked why the government was as opposed to the idea of a senate as it had been thus far.
‘Politicians who do not support it, don’t want it because they don’t want someone looking over their shoulder,’ he said.
The PPM in the past has brought up the additional cost of a senate.
‘A senate doesn’t have to cost a whole pile of money,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘Yes, you have to pay them a decent stipend, buy you have to take account of the value of the feedback. You’ll get more balanced participation in government and more accountability.’
Meeting attendee Stefan Baraud said he liked the idea of district councils. Mr. Anglin agreed.
‘It will allow people to be inclusive to the decisions of government to a certain extent,’ he said.
The idea would be to have members of the district councils appointed by both sides of the Legislative Assembly. Although the advice given by the district councils would be advisory in nature, Mr. Anglin said the elected politicians would take notice.
‘The last thing any representative would want is to see their district council resigning en masse because their advice was ignored,’ he said.
Compass reporters Alan Markoff and Brent Fuller contributed to this story.