Gov’t ignored panel on district councils

A body set up to advise the government and the public on the new constitution says the government passed a law forming advisory district councils before getting the commission’s input.

The government passed the Advisory District Councils Bill into law in January, paving the way for Cabinet to appoint members to the councils.

Members of the Constitutional Commission are researching the role advisory district councils would play in advising the Cabinet. Government passed the law before the research project was completed.

Members of the commission, speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, 8 March, said they were undertaking a research project to determine how Cabinet is advised by government departments, legislators, non-governmental organisations, statutory authorities and other bodies.

It had launched that exercise in an attempt to determine whether the work of the advisory district councils duplicated that of other organisations in terms of advising Cabinet.

“We were doing that because we wanted to understand what the role of district councils will ultimately be,” said commission member Wil Pineau.

“We did not feel there was a need to rush that. We thought a little bit more time was needed,” he added.

His colleague, commission member Julene Banks, said she wanted to hear more from members of the public on their thoughts about advisory district councils. “We don’t agree with what is in place at the moment,” she said.

Meetings

From next month, the three-member commission plans to hold a series of district public meetings, in partnership with Members of the Legislative Assembly, to explain the work of the commission and to inform people about the constitution and how it affects their lives.

Ms Banks said the commission hoped to hold one of its first meetings in North Side “where they already have a district council that is more along the lines of what we had envisioned”.

North Side set up a district council in 2009. Its members are elected in a secret ballot at an annual general meeting.

The establishment of advisory district councils is enshrined in the constitution, which came into effect in November 2009.

With a number of proposed major infrastructure projects on the horizon, including the dredging of a channel in the North Sound, an oil refinery, a port in East End and a cruise ship berthing dock in George Town, the protection of the environment is a hot topic now, and that is one of the elements that the commission feels the public can address at the upcoming meetings.

Ms Banks said: “There are very timely issues about the environment… our constitution has specific provision regarding our environment. We’re still waiting on the [National] Conservation Bill to become law.”

She added: “There will be some good discussions, there will be some feedback. The public will feel there is another entity… making sure that the voice of the people is being heard.”

Dates of the commission’s district meetings have not yet been announced.

Website

The commission held the press briefing to launch its new website, which it says will instruct and educate the public on the workings of the commission, including copies of its meeting minutes and frequently asked questions, as well as offer information about the constitution.

The new Constitutional Commission website is www.knowyourconstitution.ky.

“This new website will serve as an important, interactive resource tool for residents and visitors offering educational materials for teachers, down-loadable copies of the constitution, and discussion papers on constitutional matters and legislation submitted by our legislators, citizens and organisations,” said Mr. Pineau.

Ms Banks and Mr. Pineau said they hoped the website and the public meetings would help clear up misconceptions and misunderstandings the members of the public may have about the constitution.

Mr. Pineau said issues such as 21 days’ notice and public consultation for introduction of new legislation or how advisory district councils work would be among the issues that could be discussed at the meetings, among other topics of public interest. The meetings would also address how and when a referendum can be brought.

A petition objecting to the dredging of the North Sound is currently circulating and Captain Bryan Ebanks, who is spearheading the “Save Cayman” petition campaign, has said he hopes to collect enough signatures to hold a referendum on the issue.

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Julene Banks and Wil Pineau, members of the Constitutional Commission, present a press conference to launch the commission’s website.
PHOTO: NORMA CONNOLLY
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2 COMMENTS

  1. Come now, a three person commission? North Side District Council as a model? The model that needs to be adopted is for the district council membership to be added to the ballot during national elections and, quarterly meetings with the elected member/s of Parliament and annual presentations to Cabinet. These councils must have autonomy on all matters relating to their district. They should be paid positions with access to the Civil Service expertise and data/information.

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  2. I also support allowing ALL residents of the district the right to run and be elected for these positions regardless of their citizenship status. All other election law requirements should be adhered to.

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