A referendum will proceed as scheduled on 20 May following the United Kingdom’s approval of a draft Cayman Islands constitution, according to Cabinet Ministers who attended the talks last week.
‘We are definitely going ahead with it now,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said. ‘Two months ago, I didn’t think the chances of getting beyond the second round of talks (with the UK) were very good at all.’
Late Thursday, UK negotiators, along with most of the parties involved in the constitutional reform talks, agreed on a final draft document; the one that will be put before Cayman Islands voters in May.
If that draft is approved by the voters, it will be the first wholesale revamp of the country’s constitution in more than 35 years. Some minor changes have been made since then, but this document would substantially change the governance relationship between the islands and United Kingdom.
“It’s a historic day for Cayman,” Mr. McLaughlin said on Thursday afternoon, speaking on the telephone from London.
However, there’s still some way to go before the draft document becomes the law of the land.
Government has not approved a Referendum Law, which is required before the 20 May vote is held. That is expected to be done in the upcoming meeting of the Legislative Assembly which starts on Wednesday.
Mr. McLaughlin said he also expected that LA members would debate the draft proposal itself, although he said that is not legally required.
If and when the Referendum Law is approved, the 20 May vote can go forward.
UK Foreign Office Minister Gillian Merron said the draft constitution was ‘an important step forward’ for the Caymanian people.
‘I welcome the inclusion of the bill of rights as a first step in raising awareness and strengthening respect for and the protection of human rights,’ Ms Merron said. ‘I congratulate the Cayman Islands delegation.’
Not all parties involved in the talks fully assented to every proposal, and the bill of rights itself remained the most controversial aspect of the revised constitution right through to the very end of the talks. Representatives for the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee called the resolve an “apparent agreement for practical purposes” and disagreed with several items that were left in the proposed bill of rights.
The Human Rights Committee did not end up endorsing the draft constitution.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said he was satisfied that all the issues had been fully ventilated. He said there were some proposals in the draft constitution he would agree with and others he would not support.
“I don’t think we’ve got what would have been the best for Cayman,” Mr. Bush said.
If approved, the bill of rights would be the first ever to be placed within the Cayman Islands governing document.
There was a qualified non-discrimination clause left in the bill of rights which limits the protection against discrimination only to those specific issues identified in the bill of rights. For instance, since the rights to housing and health care are not included in the draft bill of rights document, discrimination would be allowed by government in those areas.
‘The non-discrimination section is no longer a free standing right,’ said the HRC’s Melanie McLaughlin. ‘The draft put forward to the Caymanian public will be a limited right.’
Minister McLaughlin said he was satisfied with the compromise.
“(The bill of rights) meets and in most respects exceeds…the UK’s international obligations,” he said.
Negotiators ended up leaving out a section in the bill which would have set the ground rules for Cayman’s “self-determination,” in other words, what would happen if the country decided to seek independence from the UK in the future.
The current constitution does not contain any proposal for independence.
Also removed in the eleventh-hour round of talks was a plan to prevent senior civil servants from seeking elected office within a year of resigning their government posts. The Cayman Islands Civil Service Association had lobbied heavily against this proposal in recent days.
Other issues regarding the powers given to the UK-appointed governor and the elected government were also worked out in the talks.
According to government officials, the draft constitution requires the UK to consult with the Cayman Islands before making orders-in-council, but it does not require consultation on the UK’s choice of governor.
Minister McLaughlin said a National Security Council formed by the draft document will have some power to direct the governor in the administration and oversight of police. However, in matters that directly affect the UK’s interests, the governor would have the final word.
Future changes to the constitution would have to be agreed upon via a referendum.
The country’s leader, called the Premier under the new proposal, would be limited to a maximum of two consecutive terms in office.
The constitution also does not determine a fixed percentage for the amount of public debt any government can incur.
The full draft of the constitution document is expected to be released early this week.