Just two years after the 2009 Constitution was signed into law, the United Kingdom has embarked on another wholesale re-examination of its relationship with remaining overseas territories such as the Cayman Islands.
Although Cayman’s Constitution was only finalised relatively recently, the last UK-led effort at modernising governance in its territories started in 1999 and Britain’s government is seeking again to “determine the priorities that will guide the revision and updating” of that relationship. The UK hopes to have a new ‘white paper’ proposal based partly on advice and suggestions it receives from the overseas territories by early next year.
Cayman’s top official is still the governor, who is appointed by the Her Majesty, the Queen of England. However, the new Constitution gives the locally elected government heretofore unseen decision-making and advisory powers related to security and international relations matters – as well as additional internal governance powers within the Cayman Islands Cabinet.
According to the chairman of the committee in charge of collecting and evaluating information gleaned from a survey now being distributed on the Internet and around the Cayman Islands, the latest governance review does not set independence for the overseas territories as its goal. However, Lemuel Hurlston said it is doubtful Cayman will gain too many new governance concessions from the United Kingdom without taking that step.
“The British government has made it clear that this is the next step,” Mr. Hurlston told a group of about 20 people in the audience at West Bay’s Sir John Cumber Primary School Tuesday. “They’ll tweak it [the Constitution], but they’re not going to advance it to any other stage.
“But as long as the Caymanian people express their wish to remain British, that’s an option. Independence is not going to be forced on anyone,” he said.
The survey made public last week, and which can be filled out by anyone in the world, is available on four different websites: www.ukoverseasterritories.readandcomment.com; www.ukincayman.fco.gov.ky; www.cabinetoffice.gov.ky; and www.surveymonkey.com.
The survey asks 17 different questions, including, for instance; what are the main challenges in relation to economic development facing the Cayman Islands? What are the main challenges in relation to every day life facing the Cayman Islands? What are the main challenges in relation to politics and government facing the Cayman Islands?
Responses can be made online by posting comments, by emailing the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office or by mailing the Overseas Territories Directorate. The address is King Charles Street, London, UK SW1A 2AH. Respondents are not required to give their names, but they may do so if they wish. On the Cabinet Office website, individuals are also asked if they are registered voters in the Cayman Islands.
The deadline for responses on the survey is 4 November – next Friday. After compiling all the responses, Mr. Hurlston said his committee would submit a report to Premier McKeeva Bush, who would use the information during overseas territories consultative meetings in the UK to be held toward the end of the year.
The shortened survey period, as well as the international nature of the potential responses, perturbed some of local residents at Tuesday’s meeting in West Bay.
“Caymanians are now a minority,” said Kenneth Ebanks during the West Bay meeting. “It is quite conceivable that [survey] opinions will be expressed and shared by non-Caymanians.”
Mr. Hurlston told the audience Cayman was now home to more than 100 nationalities and those individuals were part of the community while they live here.
“It’s better to have these opinions than not have them,” he said.
Other residents who attended the meeting had no problem with expatriate residents filling out surveys, but wondered why people outside of the country were allowed to participate.
“How useful is this survey going to be if it is not going to include the view of the people in the territory?” one woman asked.
Pastor Alson Ebanks, a member of Mr. Hurlston’s committee, said it was impossible to entirely control who responded to surveys on the Internet, which was why the question about registered voters was added to the Cabinet office online survey.
Karin Thompson, another committee member, urged the West Bay group to participate and encourage others to submit as many responses as they could.
“It’s the only way we can have our voices heard,” Mrs. Thompson said.