Way cleared for referendum

The Cayman Islands will hold what’s believed to be the first referendum in the country’s history on 20 May to decide whether a draft constitution will become the supreme law of the land.

Following a debate in the Legislative Assembly that started Monday around 10.30am and lasted until nearly 11pm, lawmakers unanimously approved the Referendum (Constitutional Modernisation) Bill, 2009.

‘This is historical; there aren’t that many people left in this country that were involved in the 1972 constitution (the last major overhaul in the country’s governing document),’ Works and Infrastructure Minister Arden McLean said. ‘It’s historical that now this government and the opposition agree on this constitution process.’

The Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom agreed earlier this month on a final draft constitution that will allow the locally elected government greater say and control in the British Overseas Territory. The draft document also contains the islands’ first bill of rights.

Passage of the Referendum Law had to occur before the 20 May vote could legally be held. The referendum on constitutional modernisation will take place the same day as the Cayman Islands general elections.

According the Referendum Law, the draft constitution will require a simple majority of participating voters to approve it before it can take effect.

The referendum question reads as follows: ‘Do you approve the draft constitution which was agreed by the Cayman Islands constitution delegation and the government of the United Kingdom on 5th February, 2009 and tabled in the Legislative Assembly of the Cayman Islands on 11th February, 2009?’

There were no changes proposed to the wording of that question, and government ministers made it clear there would be no further changes to the draft constitution either.

‘The time for debate, the time for argument…is now past,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said.

Whether or not the ruling government and opposition party members actually agree on the draft constitution remains to be seen. Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush is still refusing to state publicly how he will vote in the referendum.

Mr. Bush did offer something close to an endorsement for the draft document Monday evening.

‘I am happy with a lot that is in here…there are some areas I don’t like, but it is here and we have to make the best of it,’ Mr. Bush said.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said none of the groups involved in negotiating the draft constitution with the United Kingdom, including the government, opposition party, two churches, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Human Rights Committee, got everything they wanted.

‘It is physically impossible…that those entities agree with every single section in the constitution,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘It’s not going to happen.’

Read more on this story in Thursday’s editions of the Caymanian Compass…