Constitution reform talks initially set for early December have now been rescheduled to the week of 12-16 January, pushing an already tight timeline for a proposed referendum to its absolute limit.
Government ministers are still planning to host this second round of discussions on the Cayman Islands’ governing document, as well as a final third meeting with United Kingdom officials, in time to have a revised constitution before the Legislative Assembly for a vote sometime in March.
Assuming all of that can happens on schedule, a 20 May referendum will be held on the proposed changes in which Cayman Islands citizens will cast either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on the entire document.
‘Quite frankly, this is do-or-die,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said. ‘The window of opportunity has narrowed to this point.’
Opposition party members expressed no reservations about the mid-January date for the talks with UK officials. Opposition lawmakers had previously balked at holding negotiations in the first week of December since one of the party’s negotiators, Sister Islands MLA Julianna O’Connor-Connolly, was not able to attend.
Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly said at the time that she was too busy tending to the needs of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman residents following the 8 November passage of Hurricane Paloma, which devastated the country’s smaller islands; Cayman Brac in particular.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts also questioned whether Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush would be ready to attend the talks in early December following major surgery, but opposition members said they were not aware that Mr. Bush’s recent surgery would have kept him from the talks.
Opposition MLA Cline Glidden, Jr. said his party intended to attend negotiations whenever they were called.
The plan for the remaining constitution talks would admittedly not allow a great deal of time for public discussion. However, Mr. McLaughlin said he hoped to present a draft proposal to residents following negotiations in mid-January.
As previously reported by the Caymanian Compass, Mr. Bush had already given a working draft of proposals for constitutional change to members of the press.
The draft includes a proposed bill of rights, which would be the first to be included in Cayman’s constitution. The bill is largely similar to a draft proposal released to the public in October.
Many of the proposals contained in the 84-page document are the same or similar to those discussed in public meetings held earlier this year around the Cayman Islands.
The document would change the make-up of Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly, removing the chief secretary and financial secretary from parliament and replacing them with two elected ministers. The move means all but one of the house’s sitting members would have to be elected.
A deputy governor’s position would also be created and be appointed by the governor. The appointee would have to be a Caymanian and would have authority to run the civil service delegated to him or her.
The country’s attorney general would still attend LA and Cabinet meetings under the plan but would not be allowed a vote. The deputy governor would also not be allowed to vote in Cabinet meetings.
Cabinet meetings would be led by a Premier, a position created to replace the current Leader of Government Business. The Premier would have broad executive powers under the new constitution but is also subjected to a two-term limit and could lose the position in the event of a no-confidence vote in the LA.
Separate commissions would be established under the proposal for the oversight of the police service and appointments to the judiciary. The auditor general’s office and the human rights commission would also be established and enshrined in the constitution for the first time, if the plan is approved.
A section concerning voter-initiated referendums was included in the working draft document, but no details had been included at the time of its release.
The working draft is not considered final until every item has been agreed upon by those parties involved in the constitution talks. Those include not only UK officials and the two political parties but representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, the Cayman Islands Ministers Association, the Cayman Islands Mission of Seventh-day Adventists, and the Human Rights Committee.