The few weeks given for public comment and consultation on the changing relationship between the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom was the result of the British government’s actions, Premier McKeeva Bush told the Legislative Assembly last week.
Mr. Bush has taken heat in public meetings concerning the short timeline given to accept comments from the Islands’ residents on the topic of UK-Cayman governance strategies. Comments were invited at a series of public meetings as well as on several websites.
The UK is set to meet representatives of its Overseas Territories on Wednesday and Thursday for the Overseas Territories Consultative Council in London. Mr. Bush will attend.
“On 7 September, I made a statement in the honourable House advising members that I would seek Cabinet’s approval to establish a committee to review the process for our country,” Mr. Bush said. “I emphasised that it is a two-part process, and that the first, input into the defining terms that are proposed to guide the evolution of the new strategy, had to be commenced immediately,” he said. Mr. Bush said it was not until 27 September that Overseas Territories Minister Henry Bellingham indicated a public review was included in the UK territories governance process.
“The consultation process has followed a timetable set by the [Foreign and Commonwealth Office],” Mr. Bush said. “In fact, they propose to bring forward the date for agreement on the new white paper [referring to the framework for future governance strategies] from June to spring 2012,” he said. “We are endeavouring to push it back.”
The Premier said politicians opposed to his government’s administration had attempted to “mislead the people of this country” by stating Mr. Bush had known about the UK consultation a year ago.
“The … claim of secrecy is untrue,” he said. “All that was known from the Overseas Territories Consultative Council meeting of November 2010 was that there was to be a review of the UK-Overseas Territories relationship by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I gave notice of the review when I came back from the [council] in November-December 2010.
“As for me knowing about the public consultation in March, I received a letter from Minister Bellingham dated 9 March, 2011, regarding the UK and overseas territories relationship review,” Mr. Bush said. “This letter does not make any mention of a public consultation.”
The public consultation period ahead of the territories consultative meeting ended 4 November. Those with Internet access may still send views to the UK foreign office until 31 December. “Our relationship with the UK is of great importance to us as a government, as it remains of great importance to all of Cayman,” he said.
What’s the goal?
The local committee that reviewed public responses reported to Premier Bush last Friday. Mr. Bush was expected to take that report to the UK meetings this week. Mr. Bush said the survey indicated: “An interest in enabling the greatest possible amount of local governance, while at the same time ensuring that every necessary check is in place to guarantee that there is good governance and that there is transparency in decision-making and accountability for decisions taken.” Mr. Bush said the document also spoke to the need for greater inclusion and more consensus so “it is possible to respect and seek to accommodate the interests of all residents, while at the same time maximising the opportunities available to Caymanians.”
According to the chairman of the committee that led the review, 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 said. “They’ll tweak it [the Constitution], but they’re not going to advance it to any other stage. … 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.”