Constitution compromise possible

The Government said it was willing to compromise on some of its proposals for a modernised constitution if the Opposition were willing to accept the fundamental need to redefine the relationship between the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom.

Speaking at a Cabinet press briefing Friday, Minister Alden McLaughlin said the gap of difference between the Government’s and Opposition’s views on the constitution modernisation issue had been narrowed during last week’s roundtable discussions in Bodden Town.

‘There was less disagreement than we had hitherto thought,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘But there are some fundamental differences, which we regard as truly fundamental… because they go to the heart of the constitutional modernisation initiative… from our perspective.’

The core issue from the Government’s side is the need to change the way the United Kingdom conducts its role as administrating power over the Cayman Islands.

‘Essentially, the philosophical difference between us at this stage seems to be that, by and large, the [Opposition] are happy with the constitutional arrangement with the United Kingdom and we are most unhappy… and we believe most of the people of the country are satisfied that there is a grave need to redefine the respective roles of the governor and the elected cabinet in particular.’

Mr. McLaughlin said the recent turmoil with matters concerning the police and judiciary underscored the need for change.

‘What else more do we need to tell us that something is radically wrong with reposing all authority in one office for certain aspects of government?’ he asked.

‘The stresses and strains, which we are seeing now, are the best evidence yet that the relationship needs redefining.’

Mr. McLaughlin referred to issues like single-member constituencies and the provisions for a senate as ‘window dressing’ in the large scale of things because they only affected the Cayman Islands internally.

‘I’m not saying they’re unimportant, but those are by no means the most important issues,’ he said, adding that unless the country got the relationship with the UK part right in the constitution, all the rest ‘is really for naught’.

Mr. McLaughlin said he thought the Government and Opposition could resolve the internal issues in a sensible way.

‘If in the spirit of compromise we can get the… Opposition to a point where they are prepared to agree with us about the important issue about the relationship with the United Kingdom, there are concessions that we are prepared to make… even if they don’t necessarily accord with what we believe is the absolute best internal arrangement.’

Mr. McLaughlin said the Government couldn’t understand the Opposition’s change from its views on the nature of Cayman’s relationship with the UK.

‘They have now sort of backtracked from their original position to a point where they are saying they are happy to leave the attorney general to be an appointment of the United Kingdom Government; they’re happy with official members remaining in Cabinet with no accountability.

‘We’re hoping that we can get to a situation where they can agree, or at least move closer to the government’s proposal, because this whole issue of shared responsibility… is so absolutely critical.’

Mr. McLaughlin conceded that getting the United Kingdom to agree to the Government’s proposals would be difficult without some consensus with the Opposition.

‘Obviously, the UK is likely to take the path of least resistance on most issues,’ he said. ‘If they have an out because the Opposition are saying that they are happy with the present constitutional relationship… and you have the government on the other hand pushing for fundamental change, it undermines the Government’s position.’

However, Mr. McLaughlin said he was increasingly optimistic that the various involved participants could agree on a constitution that would be the best for the Cayman Islands.

‘We’ve taken the approval out of the political arena in the sense that it won’t be this government who’s gotten the constitution through,’ he said. ‘The constitution will be approved or not approved at the same time as the general elections, so there is no political plum for either side.’

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said he wanted people to remember the UK would also have its own position on the issues during the negotiations.

‘Caymanians have to be mindful that these negotiations do not only involve Caymanian interests,’ he said. ‘The British Government is very much a part. Therefore whatever agreement emerges will collectively reflect both Caymanian and UK interests.’

Mr. Tibbetts also reiterated that these were just the first round of negotiations and there was plenty of time for compromise.

‘We’re not going to rush things and end up with a divide whereby we get a new constitution coming and then there’s a campaign saying we don’t want this and we don’t want that,’ he said.

Closed-door negotiations

Although the Opposition had called for this week’s negotiations to be held in public, Mr. Tibbetts said only the opening session of the talks on Monday morning would be aired publicly.

‘At this point the UK have stated that the negotiations will be conducted in private,’ he said. ‘But mindful of its responsibility to keep the public informed, we are going to ensure the media are provided with regular updates on the progress of the discussions.

Mr. Tibbetts said negotiations of this type are usually conducted behind closed doors.

‘To the best of my knowledge, this applied in the case of all the other [British Overseas] Territories who previously negotiated new constitutional arrangements with the United Kingdom,’ he said. ‘I want to assure Caymanians that there is absolutely nothing sinister about these negotiations being held in private.’

Once this week’s negotiations conclude on Thursday, the UK delegation and members of the Government will address the media again at a press conference. Mr. Tibbetts said he thought the media would be able to ask questions at that press briefing.

‘I’m pretty sure that’s the plan,’ he said. ‘The idea is to bring everyone up to speed of where we had reached in the four days.’

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