Opposition criticises government’s handling of cruise port petition

Opposition members on Wednesday described the government’s efforts to allow people to “unverify” their names on a petition calling for a referendum on the proposed cruise port as “dastardly” and undemocratic.

The politicians aired a series of their concerns at a press conference on Wednesday, addressing, among other issues, the cruise port referendum and constitutional changes.

Member Alva Suckoo called the handling of the cruise port petition “a real slap in the face to democracy”, adding, “What I have seen them do is spending government funds, fighting not a referendum but a petition to initiate a people’s referendum. That is crossing the line as far as I am concerned.”

Opposition leader Arden McLean added, “To go as far as to encouraging people to unverify their names is the most dastardly act I have ever seen in my 30-plus years in politics.”

While the opposition members did not speak out against the concept of a cruise port, they said they were disturbed by the way government had managed the topic.

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With a people’s initiated referendum now apparently imminent, as more than 90% of signatures on the petition have been verified by the Elections Office, opposition member Chris Saunders said government is entering uncharted territory because no law has been implemented to handle referendums.

“That itself is an indictment, not just on this government but on previous governments, for not putting in a law in which to properly govern the people of this country,” Saunders said.

For George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan, the issue comes down to the precedent government sets through its handling of the project.

“I want to [assure my constituents] that the main reason we are focussing so much on this is not particularly the project itself but the [manner in] which the government is behaving because it sets precedent for other national important things,” he said.

Regarding constitutional reform talks held in December 2018, McLean said government has not provided a proper briefing since that time.

“When the Cayman Islands members of the constitutional talks returned to Cayman, I requested of the [then] leader of the opposition [Ezzard Miller], an update. He produced a document which was generic, to say the least. I insisted then that we have a detailed briefing on that document,” McLean said.

“We had discussions with the leader of the opposition, along with the premier, and we made it very clear that there were certain aspects of it that we did not agree with.”

In particular, McLean said, he did not agree with adding an additional member to Cabinet without making other changes, such as lowering the parliamentary vote threshold to remove a premier from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority.

He also took issue with acting ministers serving on the Public Accounts Committee.

“Public Accounts Committees are scrutineers. Public Accounts Committees hold governments to account for all of the funds being spent on behalf of the people. And you can’t have someone who is part and parcel of that process of spending scrutinising what they spend. So I did not support that. There were other issues,” McLean said.

Governor’s powers

McLean expressed support for a proposed provision to remove the governor’s power to introduce legislation.

“However, it appears like we have acquiesced to allowing the governor to come and address parliament whenever he or she so chooses. That is not going to happen whilst I am a member of parliament,” he said.

At the same time, Saunders said it is important the governor’s powers not be eroded. He said the governor provides an important role in situations where the government falls into disarray. He pointed to the arrest of former Premier McKeeva Bush in 2012 as an example.

“The Cabinet at the time did not have the fortitude [with] which to deal with it. It took the governor at the time to put his foot down,” Saunders said. “We need to worry about what happens when there is a rogue government.”

Regarding the governor’s veto power, Bryan said this authority has found public support because the government has failed to implement other checks and balances, such as district councils and the Standards in Public Life law.

“If the appropriate legislations, as per our constitution, were in place, people wouldn’t feel that way because the checks and balances would keep the government in line. The reason people are calling the governor now is because the government won’t put those checks and balances in place and they are behaving in particular ways, like how you see them behaving with the PAC,” Bryan said.

A spokesperson for Premier Alden McLaughlin said he would not be responding to the opposition press conference, as he is off island “for some R&R”.

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