Former premier: Cayman’s independence should be debated

The Cayman Islands has roundly rejected any idea of becoming independent from the United Kingdom, and British officials have even gone so far as to say it would not be considered in the latest round of constitutional modernization talks with the overseas territories.

However, former Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush told a recent meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Johannesburg, South Africa, that the question ought to be posed.

“The Cayman Islands [has] no mandate for independence, nor has the question arisen publicly,” Mr. Bush said during a brief address on the question of self-determination for the remaining overseas territories. “Although the older I get, the more I realize that it ought to be debated.”

Mr. Bush was pointing out that there appeared to be a disparity between the United Nations’ view of self-determination and the one held by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“When the matter arises with the FCO, you get a mixed bag of answers,” Mr. Bush said. “They do say ‘if it is the will of the people.’

“We do get a constitution of sorts from the FCO, but it always contains wording that gives the governor much leeway … that can stop self-determination efforts and can kill self-sufficiency efforts. Self-sufficiency is, as far as I am concerned, the main ingredient to make it possible to be self-governed.”

Mr. Bush said the U.K. was at cross-purposes in dealing with territories that might later become competitors, particularly in the financial services industry.

“Going by their way, they say, is adhering to international norms,” Mr. Bush said. “None of their actions assist us on the way to self-determination, nor help us to be self-sufficient and certainly do not lend itself to self-governance.

“In the current environment,” he said, “more and more pressure is put on us to kowtow to the views and standards of those with whom we would be negotiating our self determination. What kind of fairness and equality could we expect when we compete for the same business – how would we be self-sufficient?”

The man in charge of gathering public input on the U.K.-Cayman relationship prior to the last round of constitutional meetings with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2011 summarized the issues raised at the conference by Mr. Bush fairly bluntly.

“The British government has made it clear that [independence] is the next step,” former Chief Secretary Lemuel Hurlston said. “They’ll tweak [the Constitution], but they’re not going to advance it to any other stage. But 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.”

According to the survey completed by Mr. Hurlston’s committee, at the behest of Mr. Bush’s government, independence – forced or not – is an option hardly anyone in Cayman wants.

“The majority of the feedback elicited in this process pointed to a continuing sense of loyalty toward the crown and, accordingly, a desire on the part of the people of the Cayman Islands to maintain the relationship between the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom.” The 52-page report, compiled from responses to various website and printed questionnaires, was distributed prior to the Overseas Territories Consultative Council held in November 2011 in London.

The report also pointed out the perception in Cayman that it was often “at loggerheads” with the U.K. on various issues, particularly with regard to the financial services industry.

“When the Cayman Islands came under pressure from the international financial community, there seems … a sense that the Cayman Islands was let down by a failure on the part of the United Kingdom government to fully represent the interests of the Cayman Islands and indeed protect these where necessary,” the committee report read.

Rather than break off the overseas territory relationship entirely, the report found that survey respondents would rather see “greater awareness” about what cooperative options the U.K. might provide, up to and including placing a representative of the British overseas territories in parliament.

“It was also noted that individual ministries in overseas territories may shortly be able to access support directly from their counterparts in the United Kingdom government, instead of relying solely on the [foreign office],” the report noted.