The new government of the Cayman Islands has pledged to immediately get down to business after being sworn in Wednesday during a ceremony held outside and inside of the Legislative Assembly.
The ruling government and opposition benches took their final shape as former Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly was nominated as Speaker of the House, replacing Mary Lawrence in that role.
“Let us rise to the challenge and begin a new form of politics so that our children, when we leave this stage, can look at this juncture as a defining moment in time,” Ms O’Connor-Connoly said. “Egos will be put in a little box and throw away the key and statesmen and [states]women will rise from this chamber.”
Not counting Ms O’Connor-Connolly, who as speaker will not get to vote in legislative matters, Premier Alden McLaughlin will have 11 people in his new government. That includes himself and eight Progressives party members, as well as independents Tara Rivers and Winston Connolly.
United Democratic Party leader McKeeva Bush sat in the customary opposition leader’s chair aside his colleagues Bernie Bush and Capt. Eugene Ebanks during the inside proceedings. He was nominated and confirmed as opposition party leader Wednesday.
In the “south-east” corner of the assembly floor, independent member Roy McTaggart fit in between returning incumbent independents Arden McLean and Ezzard Miller. Mr. McTaggart was named the chairman of the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee.
The deputy speaker’s post was given to Bodden Town representative Anthony Eden.
Negotiations to form the new administration went right to the wire with the final pieces falling into place on Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before the swearing-in ceremony.
Ms O’Connor-Connolly has joined the Progressives party, but as speaker she is not technically a member of the government and maintains a neutral role, overseeing but not participating in debates in the assembly.
In an ironic turn of events, Mr. Bush – as longest-serving member and “Father of the House” – opened the nominations for his former government deputy premier, and new Progressives party member, as speaker on Wednesday.
“It is a long-standing position of mine, and it is a long-standing position of the United Democratic Party that the speaker can either come from the members of the Legislative Assembly or can come from outside,” Mr. Bush said, also pausing for a moment of silence on behalf of former House Speaker Edna Moyle, who died on 21 May.
Premier McLaughlin acknowledged that he had taken the helm in “challenging times” for the Cayman Islands.
His leadership team, announced Tuesday, will meet with the Cabinet secretary Thursday and get straight to work, he said.
An immediate priority will be to deal with a new potential threat to the Cayman Islands’ financial services industry following statements from UK Prime Minister David Cameron urging Britain’s overseas territories to sign up to new treaties on tax ahead of the G-8 summit in June.
Mr. McLaughlin will also push for a June meeting with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where he will attempt to convince British politicians to loosen their grip on Cayman’s finances. He is seeking more “leeway” to get major government projects going.
“There are some significant policy issues that we have to get our heads around very quickly,” he added.
Mr. McLaughlin confirmed the majority of Cabinet posts on Tuesday with Marco Archer taking finance, Kurt Tibbetts in charge of health, Osbourne Bodden getting the education ministry and Moses Kirkconnell taking on the tourism ministry, as well as being named deputy premier.
The full list of responsibilities for the seven ministers will be worked out in the coming weeks as the new government leadership sits down with senior civil servants to work out the best way forward.
Mr. McLaughlin will also call meetings with the civil service budget team as he looks to put together a plan for the territory’s spending priorities during the next financial year.
He said the negotiations over the past week had been “tense and intense”. And he insisted it was now time for legislators to work together in the best interests of the Cayman Islands. He said he had formed a majority PPM government, not a coalition, following Ms O’Connor-Connolly’s decision to join the party. However, he said he wanted to be inclusive and had appointed independent legislator Tara Rivers as minister of labour and gender affairs and Winston Connolly as a councillor in the same ministry.
He insisted every one of his PPM team was capable of being a Cabinet minister and there had never been any serious consideration of offering more than one Cabinet post outside the Progressives party.
Discussions with Mr. Miller and Mr. McLean over possible roles in government stalled on Tuesday and both men sat on the opposition side on Wednesday. Mr. Miller turned down the role of deputy speaker, according to Mr. Kirkconnell, who led the talks.
Mr. McLaughlin said: “What we have is a government of inclusion, we have reached across the aisle and agreed to bring on board persons who are not members of the PPM and who will retain their independent status and standing, but who are prepared to work with the government to achieve common objectives.”
He said he had talked with Mr. Connolly and had no problems working with him, despite some differences of opinion and the independent member’s previous opposition to Mr. McLaughlin’s leadership.
“All sorts of things are said in the heat of a campaign. Aside from that I do believe it is possible to accommodate people with different philosophies as long as we all agree on what the objective ought to be,” the new premier said.
He added: “We want the best government we can get for the Cayman Islands … we also wish to have as comfortable a majority as we can so the government is able to operate without constantly worrying whether or not we can make the quorum, whether or not we can get bills through.”
Expanding on his earlier remarks on planned talks with the UK over financial constraints, he added that the PPM was keen to get going on some major projects to help stimulate the economy.
“We want to talk about longer term plan for restoring fiscal stability in Cayman, one which allows us some leeway to get going with some of the major government projects we need as quickly as possible.
“We are firm believers that that will be a very important stimulus to the local economy. We have to get moving to engender confidence in the private sector. Business, investors and so on will be much more willing to spend money and provide employment.”
Alden McLaughlin – premier and minister of home affairs
Moses Kirkconnell – deputy premier, minister of tourism and district administration
Marco Archer – minister of finance, development and planning
Kurt Tibbetts – minister of health, works, agriculture and community affairs
Wayne Panton – minister of financial services
Osbourne Bodden – minister of education and sports
Tara Rivers – minister of labour and gender affairs
Juliana O’Connor-Connolly – speaker
McKeeva Bush – leader of the opposition
Roy McTaggart – chairman of the Public Acounts Committee
Anthony Eden – deputy speaker