Governor Duncan Taylor’s office confirmed Wednesday it received a letter from a local lawmaker “inviting” the governor not to sign recently approved amendments to Cayman’s Immigration and National Pensions Laws.
Changes to the laws were recently passed in the Legislative Assembly. Both require Mr. Taylor’s assent prior to taking effect.
The immigration bill creates an exemption or exception to Cayman’s seven-year term limit on residency for foreign workers. The pensions amendment bill introduces a scheme by which Caymanians can make withdrawals from their retirement funds to assist in buying a house or land.
By press time Thursday, Mr. Taylor’s office gave no indication what action, if any, the governor might take. A spokesperson said Mr. Taylor was seeking legal advice on the matter.
The issue raised by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller is that the two amendment bills were not published at least 21 days before the start of the Legislative Assembly meeting during which they were introduced. This, Mr. Miller argues, renders them unconstitutional under Cayman’s Constitution Order, 2009.
“They are inconsistent with the Constitution in that they were not, at the time they were moved, debated and passed by the Legislative Assembly in compliance with section 77 (2) of the Constitution,” Mr. Miller wrote to Mr. Taylor on Tuesday.
Section 77 (2) of the Constitution Order states the 21-day publishing period for bills should be observed “except in a case of emergency”.
“The Premier was unable to present the ‘case of emergency’ as required by section 77 (2) or any certification by yourself as governor or by the Cabinet that there was or is a case of emergency,” Mr. Miller wrote.
According to section 78 (2)(a) of the Constitution, the governor shall refrain from signing any legislation “which appears to him or her, acting in his or her discretion, to be in any way repugnant to, or inconsistent with, this Constitution”.
In a separate letter, sent to Speaker of the House Mary Lawrence on 29 September, Mr. Miller again raised concerns about the practice of skipping the 21-day notice period.
“It has become far too common a practice of the current Legislative Assembly to suspend these Standing Orders to allow bills to be introduced without the 21 days notice,” Mr. Miller wrote to the Speaker.
“In my respectful view, the Legislative Assembly cannot suspend the provisions and requirements of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order, 2009.”
Issues concerning the 21-day time frame prior to the introduction and passage of legislation have been raised previously by the Cayman Islands Constitution Commission.
About a year ago, the three-person advisory panel – which is appointed by the governor – warned the government it was acting “unconstitutionally” by rushing bills through the Legislative Assembly.
Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin, who said he talked to Speaker Lawrence privately about the same matter in recent weeks, said Cayman Islands lawmakers are operating under a new regime with the current Constitution.
“In the good old days, or the bad old days depending on one’s view, the government could just suspend Standing Orders,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
“The issue is now that they’re in breach of the Constitution, not just the Standing Orders.”
The problem with letting the amended legislation stand as it is, Mr. McLaughlin said, was that a court could end up throwing out the provisions of the amended law if a challenge was made.
“An attorney could argue that it is unconstitutional,” he said.
“Then they’ve gotten themselves into quite a pickle.”
Premier McKeeva Bush’s office had not responded to requests for comment on this story prior to press time.
During a public meeting earlier in the week held in George Town, government backbench MLA Ellio Solomon – who first proposed the pension amendment bill – urged attendees to call Mr. Miller and opposition party members to tell them not to try and stymie the bills.