Debate urged in Legislative Assembly
People who voiced their opinions during a public meeting in North Side on Tuesday night want more time to comment on the United Kingdom’s relationship with the Cayman Islands.
They also would like to know what will be said when Premier McKeeva Bush goes to London to discuss the subject.
A news release issued through Government Informations Services on 13 October invited public comment and gave 4 November as the deadline. The release stated Mr. Bush will deliver the input received as part of a position paper he will present at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council meeting in late November.
The UK government is in the process of drafting an updated parliamentary paper enunciating government policy toward its non-independent territories. The strategy seeks to strengthen the engagement and interaction between the UK and the territories; work with territories to strengthen good governance arrangements, public financial management and economic planning; and also improve the quality and range of support available to the territories.
North Siders and residents of other districts at Tuesday’s discussion hosted by MLA Ezzard Miller, endorsed his suggestion the UK/Cayman relationship be the subject of debate in the Legislative Assembly. By voice response to a series of questions, the audience also agreed with strong representation for “one man, one vote” as the basis for a true democracy. Further, there was agreement people had not been given sufficient time to consider the issues.
Mr. Miller introduced attorney Teresa Pitcairn, who was in the audience, as a member of a secretariat appointed by government to deal with public comment on the matter. He said he would give a copy of his findings after the district meeting to the secretariat as well as the Cabinet Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The MLA said the premier had known since 2010 about the UK’s intentions to examine its relationship with Overseas Territories. In his opinion, the matter should have been sent to a select committee of Parliament in January this year. The committee could have met and invited people to come in and give their views. Then a report could have been presented in the Legislative Assembly and debated. Government has the votes to pass whatever they want to take to England, he agreed, but at least the country would know what it was.
Invited speakers at the Craddock Ebanks Civic Centre included Leader of the Opposition Alden McLaughlin along with Julene Banks and Wil Pineau, who are both members of the Constitutional Commission established under Cayman’s 2009 Constitution.
Mr. McLaughlin said his concern was “all of this is being so rushed” and most people won’t have the opportunity to understand and consider the issues. He said Cayman’s new Constitution came about as a result of the UK’s 1999 White Paper, “Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories”. In 2009, the UK got a new government, which was looking at things afresh, he said.
The opposition leader asserted the UK was embarrassed by what had happened in Turks and Caicos, one of its 14 Overseas Territories, where parts of their constitution had to be suspended and ministerial responsibilities had to be taken over through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There is concern about good governance in the territories and potential abuse by people in authority, he said. Former Speaker of the House Edna Moyle, North Side’s previous MLA, asked if anyone had made representations to the FCO that there was not enough time for comments. She thought it was time for the Leader of the Opposition and the independent member to take a flight to London and make their concerns known to the FCO. Government may have had knowledge of a forthcoming White Paper, but the people had not had enough time.
Mr. Miller said the British have a long tradition of democracy.
“I fear they will pay more attention to the premier than anything else because they expect he represents the majority,” he said. Mr. Bush will say that his commission went district to district to obtain input, he said, adding, “The FCO has invited our leaders and expect them to represent what the majority of Caymanians want.”
East End MLA Arden McLean, who was in the audience, referred to a speech in September by Henry Bellingham, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for the Overseas Territories, about consultation with Overseas Territories. He said comments were being accepted by the FCO until 31 December 2011.
Bo Miller, former political candidate, said people were assuming they lived in a normal world, but they don’t. “We no longer have the luxury of time to consider or time to react,” he said. He suggested that the FCO would not be totally relying on what Cayman’s Government said, and that there was “extreme concern about how we’re managing our affairs.” He suggested people send their comments straight to the FCO.
Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden said it took almost a decade to deal with the Partnership for Progress paper, so he wanted to know what the rush was now. He urged asking for an extension of time for Caymanians to have their say.
Questions from the audience included one about human rights and voting. Derrick Powell wanted to know how Cayman could have a Bill of Rights that spoke about equality and yet some people could have multiple votes in elections while others had only one. Mr. McLaughlin said the constitution does not deal specifically with voting constituencies but permits legislation to be passed that spells out details. Currently voting is dealt with in the Elections Law. Mr. Miller suggested a Private Member’s Motion could be brought asking for an amendment to the Elections Law. Ms Banks said the Boundaries Commission had made recommendations. The Legislative Assembly has deferred debate on “one man, one vote” to a date to be fixed.
Lana Mae Smith said many people did not have access to the Internet or did not want to use it to submit comments. Mr. Miller said the printed questionnaires could be placed in a box somewhere in the new Government Administration Building.
Also speaking briefly at the meeting were architect Marco Whittaker, who detailed plans for the recreation area at the Old Man Bay dock (Caymanian Compass, 30 August) and Police Chief Inspector Robert Scotland, who recently took charge of the Eastern Districts Command.