Buoyed by overwhelming support of those who attended a town hall meeting in West Bay Monday night, independent legislator Tara Rivers looks set to accept a ministerial position in Alden McLaughlin’s government.
Ms Rivers had turned to her constituents to get their feedback on whether she should accept a post in the People’s Progressive Movement government’s Cabinet. If she takes a post in Cabinet, she will be the only non-PPM representative in government.
The message from the 300-400 people in the packed Sir John A. Cumber Primary School hall to Ms Rivers was “Go for it.”
The Coalition for Cayman-endorsed politician, flanked by Paul Rivers, her election running mate Mervin Smith and moderator Eddie Thompson, said she wanted to let people know that by accepting a Cabinet position, she would not be joining the PPM, but would remain an independent Member of the Legislative Assembly.
She said that since being elected on 22 May, she’d had a “baptism of fire” in the form of the many meetings and negotiations that had taken place since.
Ms Rivers said she had pushed for more involvement from the C4C-endorsed legislators in Cabinet, so that the government would an inclusive, coalition government.
“We campaigned hard for a coalition government and I still believe it is the best way forward for the people of these islands,” she said.
Explaining her hesitation in accepting a Cabinet role, Ms Rivers said Mr. McLaughlin had offered her a ministerial post, with the understanding that all other Cabinet positions would be filled by PPM politicians. “That, in my estimation, did not represent the coalition government that we were hoping to achieve,” she said.
Ms Rivers told the audience that she had initially declined the offer and instead had suggested a meeting of the independent elected members and the Progressives “so we could all sit down at the table and try to determine what was the best way forward”.
“That offer was regrettably declined and so we never did have the sit-down with the nine [Progressives] plus five independent members. Nonetheless, the discussions continued, as they should, with respect to trying to form a government which is inclusive, which is clearly both of our aims, that of the Progressives and the independent candidates,” she said.
On Saturday, Mr. McLaughlin announced in a press conference that his party would be forming the government and that Ms Rivers had been offered a Cabinet post. She admitted the announcement took her by surprise as she thought the issue was still being negotiated. “It accelerated those discussions to some degree,” she said, adding that it had put her in a difficult position and created controversy.
Admitting she would face challenges as the lone independent among a Cabinet of Progressives, she said she was advocating the government to allow for more input from her colleagues, Roy McTaggart and Winston Connolly, two other C4C candidates who won seats in general election last week, to support her if she were to take the ministerial job on offer.
Asked what ministerial portfolio she had been offered, Ms Rivers said she had been offered her choice of posts.
“The offer as it stands is pretty open and they pretty much have said I can choose the areas that I would like…,” she said.
“I am willing to serve in whatever capacity you, the people, want me to serve in,” she told the audience.
When the floor was opened for comment, everyone who spoke urged Ms Rivers to take a Cabinet position.
About half way through the 90-minute meeting, one audience member asked whoever thought she should take a ministerial post to stand and almost every person in the room rose to their feet, cheering and clapping as they did so.
“I guess we can go home now,” joked Ms Rivers.
Speaker after speaker in the hall urged Ms Rivers to take a Cabinet role, with some asking her to become health minister, while others wanted to see her in the role of education or gender affairs ministers.
As the meeting drew to a close, the new West Bay legislator said the feedback from the audience had made her decision easier.
Speaking after the meeting, Ms Rivers told the Caymanian Compass that she would meet a deadline set by Mr. McLaughlin of 8am Tuesday morning. In the meantime, she said further discussions would have to be undertaken.
“We still have to work out the details… I’ll make sure that my decision reaches him [Mr. McLaughlin] in time,” she said.
The PPM leader is scheduled to hold a press conference at 10am Tuesday morning to announce the new Cabinet positions.