Government and opposition legislators reached a rare consensus Monday on a recommendation for Caymanian involvement and oversight in the investigation of the police search and rescue operation for five boaters lost at sea since March.
Legislators on all sides unanimously voted to support an amended private members’ motion to recommend that two Caymanian justices of the peace be seconded to the inquiry team.
Initially, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush had called for a public judicial inquiry into the police response, saying he was not satisfied that the review ordered by Governor Helen Kilpatrick to be conducted by a senior British Coastguard commander would be truly independent.
After a lengthy debate, Mr. Bush agreed to a compromise with government, amending the motion to request that two Caymanian justices of the peace, one chosen by the premier, one by Mr. Bush, be included on the inquiry team.
Mr. Bush said he was concerned about the transparency and independence of the report, which the governor has announced will be carried out by Commander Andrew Jenkins of the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency because of the involvement of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Mr. McLaughlin, who earlier expressed confidence in the U.K. agency, said he hoped Caymanian involvement in the inquiry team would give an extra layer of confidence and credibility to the review.
He acknowledged that the governor has ultimate responsibility for national security and does not necessarily have to accept the recommendation, but he said the 17 elected members had sent a powerful message that it would not be wise for any governor to ignore.
Earlier in the debate, Mr. McLaughlin urged the public to hold judgment of the police response until the review was complete. Mr. McLaughlin urged members of the House to support the decisions taken by the governor and wait to see what the inquiry revealed.
“The whole issue about search and rescue and whether what we have is adequate in terms of equipment and the training of those operating it, the operational tactics in this matter and the operational decisions that were taken are all part of what I believe this inquiry will encompass ….
“It may well be that the report concludes with major criticism of the way the matter has been handled; none of us know. I believe we should have confidence in the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency and give their commander the opportunity to conduct this inquiry and present it to the whole country.”
Mr. Bush’s original motion called for an independent inquiry into the rescue operation. Since he filed the motion the governor announced Mr. Jenkins’s review.
However, he persisted Monday, saying he was not satisfied with a written report and called for a full judicial inquiry, with the opportunity for lawyers to question witnesses in a public setting.
“I am not satisfied with an inquiry that has every possibility of going nowhere,” he said.
“This is not just about a boat accident. It is about five souls lost. What we need is an open judicial inquiry, not a report at the behest of the governor, who believes the police commissioner deserves our confidence and trust.”
He said the report would inevitably go through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before it was made public, and suggested that other public inquiries had resulted in a “whitewash.”
Mr. Bush added, “We can’t do anything about five souls lost. Pray to God it were not so. Pray to God, somehow, we will find those persons, but we must get to the root of what happened.”
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said he believes the U.K. Coastguard commander’s review, which is scheduled to begin this week, will provide a sufficient level of independence to achieve the accountability that Mr. Bush and other members are asking for.
He said that Mr. Jenkins has nearly two decades of relevant experience and has no connection to the Cayman Islands, to the governor’s office, to the police or the civil service.
“We are achieving exactly what everyone wants here, using this method that the governor has agreed to. We are getting an independent person to come in to review the entire incident and we commit to making it public.”
As the members continued to debate the motion Monday, Mr. Bush and Mr. McLaughlin negotiated a compromise that led to the amendment late in the afternoon, which was unanimously backed by all present. Several legislators spoke on the motion, many of them expressing condolences for the families of the five people missing at sea since March 6. The boat had been on a trip to 12 Mile Bank, west of Grand Cayman. The craft was recovered, but none of those aboard have been found. Three men, Gary Mullings, Edsell Haylock and Nicholas Watler and two children, Kamron and Kanyi Brown, ages 11 and nine respectively, were on board.