The relative power and influence held by Cayman Islands backbench members of the Legislative Assembly – or “councilors” as they are more often described these days – was questioned during a public hearing held this week in George Town.
The questioner, Cayman Turtle Farm Managing Director Tim Adam, asked members of the Electoral Boundary Commission what powers were given to elected MLAs who were not members of Cabinet. Under the Cayman Islands Constitution Order, 2009, 18 Legislative Assembly members are elected to serve, but it is the members themselves who decide after the election who will form the ruling government and who will serve in Cabinet.
Boundary commission members answered that MLAs have the ability to make laws and the responsibility to represent their constituents’ concerns in the assembly. Section 59 of the Constitution states: “The legislature may make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Cayman Islands.”
However, Premier Alden McLaughlin said the backbench position had, in recent years, morphed into something far more influential.
“[The role of the MLA] is more important now than it was 15 years ago,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Mr. McLaughlin explained that, every Monday, all members of the Progressives-led government meet in a political caucus that essentially decides what business would be carried forward on behalf of the government.
“In caucus, we all have equal voice and vote,” the premier said. “If [a proposal] has no support in caucus, the bill, the policy … does not go forward in the first place.
“The Cabinet alone, even if [a proposal] goes to the House, can pass nothing. In many ways, Cabinet is a formal process … the real decision-making is done in caucus.”
Mr. McLaughlin stressed the importance of consensus-building in the current version of the Westminster political system adopted by the Cayman Islands. The system is based on a majority rule principle that one former Cayman Islands legislator described as “the minority must have its say, but the majority will have its way.”
“Politics, at the end of the day, is a numbers game,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “You can get absolutely nothing done unless you have the majority of the people in the House supporting what you’re trying to do. I would not be the premier if the majority of my team did not support me to be premier. The ministers wouldn’t be ministers if they didn’t have my confidence and support.
“There has to be some level of consensus and agreement on principles and policies among the majority, otherwise the government cannot begin to function.”
Continuing a process that started under the former United Democratic Party government, the Progressives party has assigned its backbenchers to assisting roles within the various ministries.
For instance, George Town MLA Joey Hew works as councilor to the Ministry of Tourism under Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell. George Town MLA Roy McTaggart is the ministerial councilor for financial services under Minister Wayne Panton and George Town MLA Winston Connolly is councilor for education under Minister Tara Rivers.
The councilors’ roles are undefined in any legislation and they are not contained with the 2009 Constitution Order.
Inserting a definition of the legislative councilors’ roles and responsibilities was proposed by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller in a private members’ motion made last year which was deferred after government indicated it would seek to bring a raft of “uncontroversial” amendments to the governing document. Several of those changes have since been opposed by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush and any constitutional change during the current government’s term is uncertain.