By preventing motions and questions from the minority members of the Legislative Assembly from being addressed, the United Democratic Party government is threatening democracy in Cayman, Opposition and independent members of parliament declared on Thursday.
According to members of the opposition People’s Progressive Movement party and independent member for North Side Ezzard Miller, seven motions and 30 questions brought by them have not been dealt with in the Legislative Assembly because the Standing Business Committee, chaired by Premier McKeeva Bush, which decides what business the House deals with at individual meetings and sittings, has repeatedly failed to put those matters on the order paper or agenda.
Mr. Miller, describing the failure of three of his motions and those of the opposition to be brought before parliament as an “abuse of power by the premier and his UDP majority against the people that I represent”.
He said he and members of the PPM would write to Speaker of the House Mary Lawrence asking for a special sitting of the House to be held to debate the outstanding private members motions, some of which have been waiting to be dealt with since May 2009. If she did not use her discretion to agree to such a sitting, he said he hoped he could find at least one UDP member to sign a letter calling for this special meeting.
Under the rules of the Legislative Assembly, if seven members call for a special meeting, the Speaker shall be required to hold one. Since there are only six minority members in the House, without the support of one UDP member, Mr. Miller and the PPM would not be able to force a meeting to be held.
Mr. Miller said he also intended to write to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Foreign Affairs Committee and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Secretariat to ask for guidance or for intervention. He admitted that those bodies had no power to insist that private members motions are debated, but said that intervention by those bodies might “embarrass” the government into carrying out correct procedures during parliamentary meetings.
Since the latest meeting of the Legislative Assembly began on 23 May, it has met for seven sittings, during which time no private members motions have been dealt with, said Leader of the Opposition Alden McLaughlin. “We submitted 33 questions. Three were answered on 3 August,” he said.
Included in the opposition’s outstanding motions – two of which were submitted in time to be considered in the latest meeting and two from earlier meetings – is a lack of confidence in the Premier motion. Mr. McLaughlin said that if that motion had been dealt with and voted on in May, there would have been fewer matters of concern relating to the Premier’s actions than there are currently. Since that motion was submitted, it has come to light that the premier is subject to a criminal investigation.
During a press conference held Thursday, three members of the opposition People’s Progressive Movement party – Mr. McLaughlin, Arden McLean and Kurt Tibbetts – and Mr. Miller said the work of the Legislative Assembly was malfunctioning.
They cited the government’s suspension of standing orders on several occasions to bring bills before the Legislative Assembly without the normally required 21 days’ prior publication of those bills as another instance in which usual parliamentary procedure was not being observed.
“Parliament is simply becoming a place where the policies of the government are rubber-stamped and the opposition is effectively being shut out,” said Mr. McLaughlin, adding that the role of the opposition is to debate and question the government on behalf of the people.
He said the Westminster system of parliament, which allows for debate, was being ignored.
Mr. McLean, the MLA for East End, who is a member of the Standing Business Committee said he had become disillusioned with the committee and described Cayman as “heading down the road of becoming a one-party state”.
Mr. Tibbetts acknowledged that when he was Leader of the Government Business, a title that has since changed to Premier, there may have been times when motions from the then opposition UDP party may not have made it onto the order paper for Legislative Assembly meetings, but he insisted this had not been done to purposely sideline private members motions. He added that his party, when in government, had been “very conscientious” in ensuring that 21 days notice was given when presenting bills to the House.
During the press briefing, Mr. Miller also revealed that through a Freedom of Information request, he had found out that a new talk show called Community Voices hosted by Dr. Frank McField and Lorna Bush on Radio Cayman, the publicly funded radio station, had been launched late last month following a “verbal directive” from the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development, which is headed by Premier Bush.
“How can any minister utilise what is a public asset for the promotion of his own party’s interest?” asked Mr. McLaughlin. He and the other politicians at the press conference said they would not appear on the show.
Mr. Miller also revealed at the press conference that another Freedom of Information request had disclosed that the no traffic management reports had been done into the proposed closure of part of West Bay Road which is being considered as part of a land-swap deal with the Dart Group.
Premier Bush dismissed the accusations by
Mr. Miller and the opposition members, saying their strategy in bringing
motions was to “tie up the government up in such a way that we have to spend an
enormous amount of time doing research and study on the matters of their
He said bringing a budget that did not
involve taxing the public took priority over the motions.
“Government also has to weigh these matters
as against the urgent needs of the people and the amount of work that it is
taking the government to deal with the economy and the various projects on the
table. These essential projects will create employment opportunities and help
people to pay their mortgages,” Mr. Bush said.
He said Mr. Miller’s three motions, which
call for a 50 cent decrease in import duty for fuel, a removal of duty on
medicine and medical supplies and a minimum wage, had already been discussed at
length. “These matters are being dealt with, his problem is that he wants to take
credit for what our ministers are now doing,” the premier said.
“The Opposition needs to stop this petty
and, to put it quite frankly, dirty political campaign. They are doing nothing
but hurting our Islands and our people. They are doing nothing to address the
problems that they created and compounded, and they have no plan for correcting
them. Timing of House meeting as they are now, are not new to members.
These are housekeeping matters, which predates this government,” said Mr.
Mr. Miller and the Opposition members at
the press conference were critical of the number of times the Legislative
Assembly had been scheduled to meet. Mr. Tibbetts said that the Legislative
Assembly had sat for 10 days in the current meeting, during a time span that
will be 107 days by the time it resumes on 7 September.
However, Mr. Bush said not all the work of
government was done in the Legislative Assembly. “As to the timing of when
meetings start, this is not new for the assembly and is no more than what
various governments have done to be able to carry on the business of governing.
Work is done in the [Government] Administration Building, and other government;
talk is done in the LA,” he said.