Constitutional Commission renews call for Advisory District Councils

Cayman’s three-member Constitutional Commission on Thursday called for creation of Advisory District Councils as part of efforts marking the annual “Day of Democracy” on Sept. 15.

The group, comprising Chairman Vaughan Carter and members Natalie Urquhart and Olivaire Watler, named “democracy and conflict prevention” as its 2017 theme, noting in a formal statement a “critical need to strengthen democratic institutions to promote peace and stability,” and calling for “effective and inclusive democratic governance with respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

The commission’s call for advisory councils, the statement said, reflects section 119 of Cayman’s 2009 Constitution, which refers to panels “for each electoral district to operate as advisory bodies to the elected members of the Legislative Assembly,” offering “the people of the Cayman Islands” a chance to “engage and influence the democratic process.”

In 2011, then-Premier McKeeva Bush introduced legislation to create advisory councils. The effort fell flat in the face of opposition claims that the groups would serve only as political support for Mr. Bush’s United Democratic Party.

The legislation at the time stalled after Alden McLaughlin, leader of the People’s Progressive Movement, now called the Progressives, refused to support the bill, preventing PPM members from accepting council seats.

In the Progressives’ 2017 manifesto, released before the May general election, the party stated that it would be making “the necessary amendments to the Advisory District Councils Law to ensure that a District Council is established in each electoral district to enable voters to interface directly with their elected representative.”

According to the manifesto, each Council would be given an annual budget “for which they will present audited financials, to fix the small irritants in their communities that matter most to them and which may be overlooked by central government or simply take too long to correct.”

District MLAs would be required to attend quarterly meetings of their respective Advisory District Council “to address their concerns, advise them of Government’s plans and policies and get feedback from the community,” the manifesto continued.

Currently, the only Advisory District Council that meets regularly is the North Side council.

Thursday’s statement from the Constitutional Commission, while lamenting the 2011 failure, suggested that the time may be right to try again. The constitution, it said, requires a law to “provide for the establishment, functions and jurisdiction of [Advisory District] Councils.” Such a move “may now benefit from fresh review and evaluation in light of subsequent constitutional developments, including the establishment of single-member constituencies.”

Constitutional Commission members are appointed by the governor for staggered renewable terms of two years and four years.

The commission’s independence, according to its website, “is deemed crucial for its effectiveness and legitimacy in exercising its functions,” which combine those of “an advisory body … with a think tank on constitutional matters.”

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