Governor Martyn Roper said he would work closely with the Elections Office during the process to verify the authenticity of more than 5,300 signatures on a petition calling for a referendum on the controversial cruise port project.
Speaking after a meeting with the referendum campaign group Friday, Roper emphasised the Elections Office is independent of government and reports directly to him.
“I was pleased to meet with the cruise port referendum petitioners to talk about the progress they have made in collecting over 5,300 signatures, which is an important achievement,” Roper said in a voice message sent to the Cayman Compass.
He said he recognised there were strong views on both sides of the issue and had reassured the Cruise Port Referendum Cayman campaign group that the Elections Office, which will be responsible for ensuring every signature on the petition is legitimate, is politically neutral.
“In terms of the process from here onwards, I underlined I would work very closely with the Elections Office, who report directly to me, and I will attach the highest importance to good governance, due process, the rule of law and upholding our constitution,” he said.
The campaign group announced last month that it had collected signatures from 25% of the electorate – the required threshold to trigger a people-initiated referendum.
Following the meeting with the governor on Friday, the group issued a press release saying the list of names would be submitted to the Elections Office next week.
Supervisor of Elections Wesley Howell has already confirmed that the office will seek to verify every single name on the list. Despite concerns that this process could be onerous and subject to political influence, Howell said he would be answerable to the governor to conduct the process in a fair and timely manner.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said Wednesday that government would proceed with the final steps in the procurement process on the port and has taken legal advice that it should not be concerned by the petition until and unless it is submitted to Cabinet with every signature verified by the Elections Office.
He added, “Ten months after the petition was launched, there is still not even a list yet submitted to the Elections Office for verification.”
Cruise Port Referendum Cayman explained the delays in presenting the petition in its press statement, saying it had always been the intention of the group to seek guidance and reassurance over the verification process from the governor and the Elections Office before handing over the petition.
“All parties have acknowledged that they are navigating uncharted waters together in what will be the first People Initiated Referendum in the Cayman Islands, and possibly the first in any Overseas Territory,” the group said in a statement.
Even if a verified petition is submitted to Cabinet, the premier has made no guarantees that a referendum will take place. He said his Cabinet would take the “appropriate and advised” course of action recommended by its legal team once the verified petition is submitted.
Speaking in the Legislative Assembly last week, he said government was not yet taking a position on whether the issue of the dock meets the definition of ‘national importance’ – required by the Constitution before people-initiated referenda can be held.
Johann Moxam, one of the leaders of the campaign group, said Friday it would be very difficult for Cabinet to seek to avoid a referendum by claiming the cruise port was not an issue of national importance.
He said government had spent six years and more than $8 million dollars of public money on the project and, more recently, had splashed out on a marketing campaign touting its importance.
“Ironically, the premier now refuses to confirm if this a matter of ‘national importance’, yet the government has used public funds and senior civil servants and public officials in a marketing campaign to convince the public that the proposed project is of vital importance,” he said in a statement Friday.
“The Premier and Deputy Premier are on record stating how important the project is for a variety of reasons.”