Cayman’s new government will collaborate with members of the opposition and independents in deciding what parliamentary business will be dealt with during its remaining months in power, according to Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly.
Speaking during the government’s first news conference, just hours after it was formed, Ms O’Connolly-Connolly outlined the way forward for the new government, explaining how a five-member administration could conduct business when it only controlled a third of parliament.
While insisting that there were no plans to form a coalition government, the new premier told reporters Wednesday afternoon that the group had taken the “preemptive step” of consulting with opposition and independent members who had agreed that the House would always have a quorum of members and “we in turn have given an undertaking that all bills or government business will be consulted with them prior to bringing them to the Legislative Assembly”.
With just five members, the government does not have enough numbers to meet the minimum quorum of eight needed to hold meetings in the House.
Asked if this new administration could still be considered a United Democratic Party government or whether they had a new name and brand, Ms O’Connor-Connolly answered that their name was not important, just the fact that they had done “the right thing”.
“We are the five born and bred Caymanians who came to the forefront and made the right decision,” she said. “If it happens that we are ousted out of the United Democratic Party, that was a political risk that we considered and that we’re prepared to accept.”
The government members each spoke of the “difficult” decision they were forced to make to oust McKeeva Bush, but blamed the former premier for the upheaval experienced in government during the past week on his refusal to resign, despite being recommended to do so by his eight elected United Democratic Party colleagues last Friday.
The members said three of those colleagues – Ellio Solomon, Mike Adam and Captain Eugene Ebanks – “reneged” on the agreement to ask Mr. Bush to resign. The three subsequently were the only elected members of the Legislative Assembly to vote against a motion of no confidence in the UDP government on Tuesday, 18 December, and crossed the floor of the House with Mr. Bush.
Ms O’Connor-Connolly was confident that despite the often acrimonious relationship between the former government, of which she had been deputy premier, and the opposition and independent members, her government would be able to work with them. She pointed to the collaboration between the People’s Progressive Movement members and independents Arden McLean and Ezzard Miller in calling for the special meeting of the Legislative Assembly and voting together in the no confidence motion as an example of successful collaboration.
New Deputy Premier Rolston Anglin said, in any case, the minority government only had about 100 days left to operate in parliament, as the Legislative Assembly dissolves on 26 March in preparation for the 22 May general election.
Senior civil servants working in the various ministries would continue in their roles to maintain stability, Ms O’Connor-Connolly said.
Mr. Bush’s erstwhile ministry of finance, tourism and development has been divided up between three members of the new government. Ms O’Connor-Connolly has taken over as minister for finance, Mr. Anglin is the new minister of financial services, while Cline Glidden has become the minister for tourism and development.
The members described the soul searching and difficulty they faced in coming to a decision to remove Mr. Bush from office.
Bodden Town MLA Mark Scotland, who retains his position as minister of health, acknowledged that many in Cayman had been critical of the amount of time it had taken the government to come to a resolution on how to handle the situation that evolved following the arrest of Mr. Bush on Tuesday, 11 December. The government at the time issued a single statement on the day of the arrest, but were then silent for a week, until the no confidence vote on 18 December.
He said the UDP caucus had held many meetings during the week and considered many options, while also trying to find a solution that met the demands of the constitution.
He continued that when he and his four colleagues supported the motion of no confidence, “we in no way were indicating a lack of confidence in the persons sitting here at this press conference today – it was more of a lack of confidence instead in the leadership we had at that point”.
The members said the past week’s events would in hindsight be considered “a bump in the road”, for which Mr. Glidden apologised, stating that it happened under an administration of which he and his colleagues were part.
Referring to the decision to oust Mr. Bush, Mr. Glidden said: “It was the hardest decision I’ve made in my life … It came down to a decision between a very close friend and colleague and country, because I knew once the decision was made to ask the premier of the day to resign his office that any personal relationship would have been forever fractured.”
He added: “We decided we had no choice but to ask for [Mr. Bush’s] resignation, not due to any presumption of guilt but simply to ensure the protection of the integrity of the office of the premier and stability … and reputation of the Cayman Islands. The feeling was for the premier to be able to fight for his innocence and protect his innocence – that is something he should be allowed to do – but we wanted to ensure it was not done from the office of the premier while he sat in that position.”
He insisted removing Mr. Bush and creating a new minority government was not “some sort of power grab”. “No one sitting here wanted or expected or desired this position for the next five months,” Mr. Glidden said.
Britain-appointed Governor Duncan Taylor agreed to the formation of a minority government on Wednesday, the day after 11 members of the Legislative Assembly passed a vote of no confidence in the ruling government. He also had the alternative choice of dissolving parliament, resulting in early elections.
Mr. Glidden said the option of holding a general election in March was not a desirable one as it would have disenfranchised hundreds of voters who had registered in recent months, as those voters would not have been verified and added to the electoral register by election time.
Addressing what the next five months will bring under this new administration, Ms O’Connor-Connolly said there would be “no new surprises” in terms of legislation to be considered, adding that a priority of the government would to meet financial three-year commitment the former government had made with the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She said she had scheduled a call Thursday with the UK’s Minister for the Overseas Territories, Mark Simmonds. She added that legislation would only be brought before the Legislation Assembly after consultation with opposition and independent members. “If we find that we have their support, we will take it down, if we don’t have their support, because of the circumstance we find ourselves in, unfortunately, it will have to be dealt with by the new government after the election,” she said.
Asked if ForCayman Investment Alliance projects, such as the planned closure of a section of the West Bay Road and the proposed relocation of Grand Cayman’s dump to Midland Acres in Bodden Town, would go ahead, Mr. Scotland said negotiations concerning the landfill issue would continue, although he said any necessary legislation involved in that, for example, the vesting of Crown land, was likely not going to be dealt with prior to the dissolution of the House in March.
Mr. Glidden said that regardless of who was in power, he believed that the ForCayman Investment Alliance agreement would go ahead and the government of the day would work with Dart and any other investors to ensure continued economic growth and development.