Premier McKeeva Bush has slammed the Constitutional Commission, saying it overstepped its remit when it recently commented on the establishment of Advisory District Councils in Cayman.
Mr. Bush, in a statement he read in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, 17 March, took exception to comments made by members of the commission at a recent press conference, saying it showed “poor performance of their mandated function” and said Governor Duncan Taylor had contacted the commission about its functions.
The governor’s office confirmed that Governor Taylor had written to Constitutional Commission chairman Pastor Al Ebanks, passing along legal advice regarding the commission’s remit. “The Governor has spoken to the chairman of the Constitutional Commission, Pastor Al, and wrote to him today [Friday] to make him aware of the situation and the legal advice,” said Steve Moore, head of the Cayman Islands Governor’s Office.
The premier said the commission, in speaking out against the government’s passing of a bill to set up Advisory District Councils, had made “an embarrassment” of itself and said it was “astounding” that the commission could be “so absolutely misguided in its understanding of its role”.
Mr. Bush said the government had received concerns from the commission in October 2010 about the proposed Advisory District Council Bill stating that the councils would be an additional layer to existing advisory bodies; that the councils would be funded by the public purse but would become extensions of political parties; and that the bill to set up the councils should not be passed into law hastily.
In response to those points, Mr. Bush said the councils would give institutional form to public consultation; that efforts had been made to minimise the cost of the councils, which would be structured to give greater voice to those within and outside government; and the bill had not been brought hastily but had been published for public comment and was subject of “an extended and very vigorous debate” in the Legislative Assembly.
Mr. Bush continued: “It cannot be right that those who are appointed may feel they can go and do as these have done – believe they can frustrate my administration and say we are ultra vires [beyond the powers of] the Constitution, while clearly they themselves are misinterpreting and misusing their positions.”
The Constitutional Commission, in its press briefing on 8 March, said it was carrying out research into the sources from which Cabinet derives advice to determine if the role of the Advisory District Councils is duplicated by other bodies. That research was ongoing and had not been completed by the time the Bill was considered and passed by the Legislative Assembly in January.
The commission members said it also planned to hold public meetings to pass information about the Constitution to the public and to get public feedback on a variety of Constitution-related issues, including Advisory District Councils.
Mr. Bush said nowhere in the Constitution did it state that the commission was expected to be an advocate for specific policies and legislation.
He added that “no government is intended to base its executive decisions on the advice of a Constitutional Commission”.
Mr. Bush also accused the commission of expressing a “blatantly partisan political view” when its members stated that the existing district council in North Side was more along the lines of what it had envisioned for district councils.
Despite his criticism of the commission, Mr. Bush admitted that he had no power to tell it what to do, as the commission answers to the Governor of the Cayman Islands.
He said Governor Taylor had undertaken to “steer them away” from the “agenda” it had set, and to encourage them to discuss their ambit with the Attorney General “because, clearly, they need to be better schooled in their role and functions”.