With the ink barely dry on the May 22 general election results, veteran members of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly have already waged their first political battle of the 2013-2017 government term.
One-time political allies Premier Alden McLaughlin and independent members Ezzard Miller and Arden McLean found themselves in a heated back-and-forth Wednesday. Mr. McLaughlin’s governing Progressives party backed Messrs. Miller and McLean for reelection in May.
It began with North Side Member of the Legislative Assembly Mr. Miller questioning the constitutionality of bills assembly members spent most of the day debating and voting on, namely unapproved expenditures of the former United Democratic Party government between 2009 and 2013.
Mr. Miller correctly noted that the four separate supplementary appropriations bills brought before the house did not comply with section 77(2) of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order, 2009. The section requires that all legislation be published in the government gazette at least 21 days prior to the start of the LA meeting in which they are considered. The supplementary appropriation bills debated Wednesday were made public just seven days prior to the LA sitting.
The 21-day notification issue was often cited by Mr. Miller and then-Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin during the previous UDP government’s term, as the former government often did not meet the 21-day notification deadline.
The Constitution allows for “emergency” legislation to be brought without the standard notification period, but Mr. Miller said bills setting out government expenditures from up to four years ago could hardly be considered urgent.
“[Premier McLaughlin] has decided to follow the same course [as the previous government],” Mr. Miller said, adding that he was disappointed in the new premier’s administration and “pleaded” with the government to “let this be the last time” legislation was brought to the house without the 21-day notice.
Premier McLaughlin acknowledged the constitutional failings, but asked Legislative Assembly members’ patience on the matter given that the government that took office in May had to approve a temporary budget within about a month and a full-year budget within the next three months. It was during that process, Mr. McLaughlin said, that his government members determined the four years’ worth of supplementary expenditure had not been approved by the Legislative Assembly.
“We could have simply ignored it,” he said. “But we felt it important to bring this to the attention of members of this house, finance committee and the broader public. The current budget that we have expires on 31 October. We need to get these issues from the previous administration … cleaned up before a fresh budget is brought here.”
Mr. McLaughlin asked opposition members not to “abdicate” their responsibilities as lawmakers due to the lack of notice given on the supplementary appropriation bills by vacating the house for the debate. The premier said Cayman Islands voters had already spoken out about such “selfish” acts by their politicians.
“The country has rejected the constant back-and-forth about technical issues at the expense of the country,” he said. “I will continue with the principle of the outstretched hand to my colleagues over on the other side of the house. If they wish to slap it aside, there’s not much I can do about that.”
Those last comments rose the ire of Mr. McLean, East End legislator and Mr. McLaughlin’s one-time fellow Cabinet member.
“The premier is calling for colleagues on the other side of the aisle to work with the government and stop the pettiness,” Mr. McLean said. “I’ve heard those cries many times in this house, but they were only words.
“I wasn’t elected here to kowtow to anybody. Get that straight.”
Mr. McLean said after the May elections he had tried to broker a deal with the political group Coalition for Cayman to “get the premier a government that would last eight years.” He didn’t specify what that deal entailed but noted that it obviously hadn’t gone through. Neither Mr. Miller nor Mr. McLean was given a position of responsibility within the current government.
Mr. McLean also accused the premier of trying to keep himself and Mr. Miller off the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, favoring instead his political arch rival West Bay MLA McKeeva Bush. Mr. McLaughlin denied the claim.
“Mr. Premier, you got three years and nine months to go,” Mr. McLean said. “There will be plenty of time for blame.”