Constitutional questions persist

Representatives from just two of the six local groups that took part in constitutional reform talks with the United Kingdom said that they will vote for the draft document during a 20 May referendum.

constitutional reform

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush and Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts shake hands before a Monday morning press conference as Education Minister Alden McLaughlin (right) looks on. Photo: Brent Fuller

Members of the other four negotiating groups either refused to divulge their thoughts publicly, or simply said they hadn’t yet made up their minds.

No one said outright that they intended to vote no on the document.

‘I am still praying about it,’ Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said during a Monday morning press conference at the Harquail Theatre.

Ministers Alden McLaughlin and Kurt Tibbetts both expressed unequivocal support for the draft document, which would be the first wholesale revision of the Cayman Islands’ governance relationship with the UK since 1972, if it is approved by voters.

Pastor Shian O’Connor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church said the draft document would receive his support.

Chamber of Commerce President Eddie Thompson and Pastor Al Ebanks with the Cayman Ministers Association both refused to divulge how they would vote, and asked that those weighing in on 20 May take time to educate themselves on the draft constitution.

Human Rights Committee chair Sara Collins also did not discuss how she might vote. However, it became apparent during Monday’s discussion that the HRC did not intend to support the proposed bill of rights in the draft constitution.

Ms Collins proposed that government add a question onto the 20 May ballot that would give voters a choice on the anti-discrimination clause now contained in the draft bill of rights. The question would ask voters whether they wished to keep a limited right to non-discrimination, as is proposed, or if they would prefer a ‘free-standing’ right for all against discrimination.

Minister McLaughlin said the referendum is proposed as a straight up-or-down vote on the draft constitution as negotiated between the Cayman Islands and the UK. He said it would be practically impossible to change the non-discrimination section of the bill without foregoing the support of church groups.

‘What (the HRC’s proposal) inherently requires is a breach of an agreement that was reached in London,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘If that agreement is breached, (the churches’) support of this document is gone.’

A majority vote in the referendum is the last step required in the constitutional modernisation process in Cayman. If the document does not receive majority support from the voters, it will not become the new law of the land.

‘This is the first that I’ve heard that issue,’ Ms Collins said about Mr. McLaughlin’s ‘breach of agreement’ comments.

Church leaders pointed out that the approval of this bill of rights would be an improvement on the current situation in Cayman where human rights are not defined within any law.

‘The fact is, we never had any rights at all,’ Pastor O’Connor said. ‘We were living at the mercies, albeit reasonable mercies of the men and women of the legislature.’

Ms Collins argued that Caymanian voters should be given the final decision on what the non-discrimination clause of the bill of rights will look like.

Right now, the non-discrimination section of the bill of rights provides only a limited protection in those areas specifically identified by the constitution. Areas such as housing, health care, adoption and many other items are not covered in the proposal and would allow discriminatory policies or laws by government in those areas.

Questions concerning the 20 May referendum have not officially been resolved in law, but it is assumed a simple majority ‘yes’ vote would be needed to pass the measure. Also, government ministers have been told that voters would essentially have to cast two ballots in separate balloting booths. The first vote will be for general election candidates and the second a vote on the constitution.

Elections Supervisor Kearney Gomez told lawmakers last week that the two issues will have to be kept on separate ballots.