Today’s Editorial December 09: FOI and the constitution

2008 will not go down as one of the best years in terms of the Cayman Islands’ relationship with the United Kingdom.

Events like an over-reactive Commission of Enquiry into whether Ministry of Tourism documents were improperly taken and released to the media by Cabinet Minister Charles Clifford and a Metropolitan Police investigation that has turned out to be ridiculously abusive in its process have left some residents wondering if the UK is purposely trying to sabotage its relationship with the Cayman Islands.

Now it seems this relationship will take a turn to the ironic.

Last Friday, during a debate on general regulations of the Freedom of Information Law passed last year, Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush attempted – in the spirit of transparency – to lay a copy of the working draft of Cayman’s new Constitution on the table of the Legislative Assembly. He was prevented from doing so by Speaker of the House Edna Moyle, who ruled the document was confidential.

True to his promise, Mr. Bush later released the document to the media anyway.

In the debate that preceded Mrs. Moyle’s ruling, Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin said the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office had imposed a condition of confidentiality on the working draft and he argued that making it public could jeopardise the ongoing negotiations.

We can’t understand how the UK could, in one instance, praise Cayman’s new FOI Law – as it did through Governor Stuart Jack’s Throne Speech this year – and in another instance impose a condition of confidentiality on the working draft of a document that will affect every person residing in these islands.

A new constitution will affect the lives of everyone in this country. It is the people’s constitution; not the constitution for the select few leaders of government and non-governmental organisations that are participating in the negotiations.

Although we called for the negotiation talks to be held in public, we are willing to concede that the political grandstanding that would have taken place in open talks could have been counterproductive to progress.

However, now that the fruits of those initial talks have produced a working draft of a new constitution, we see no reason why anyone should try to keep the document confidential.

Since the ratification or rejection of a new constitution will be determined by a referendum next May, it makes practical sense to keep the people of this country informed of progress every step of the way. If there is something the people do not agree with included in the working draft, surely it is better to find out during the early days of the constitution talks as opposed to late in the game.

We find it incredible the UK could, as Mr. McLaughlin suggested, put into question the outcome of the negotiations for a document as important as the constitution, simply because the working draft of the document has become public. If that is really the case, people will inevitably – and rightly – have to start wondering why.