Lawmakers have unanimously approved constitutional changes that will alter how the UK legislates for the Cayman Islands.
The changes now make it mandatory for the UK to consult with the premier on any legislation or Orders in Council that may directly affect the Cayman Islands, and that Cabinet offer its view on the legislation or order.
It also removes some of the reserve powers held by the governor, including the ability to write legislation.
The push for the changes was triggered by amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Law last year which imposed the mandatory creation of public beneficial ownership registers on British Overseas Territories, including Cayman.
Now that the local process is finalised, once the legislators’ motion is sent to the UK, the revised Constitutional Order will go through the formal process in there. It is expected that the new order will be confirmed by the Privy Council in February 2020, according to a statement from the Premier’s Office.
Premier Alden McLaughlin brought the government motion on the changes Friday in the Legislative Assembly.
McLaughlin, at the close of the debate on the motion, expressed pride that fellow legislators could put aside partisan politics and work together on the issue.
“We have done the country proud this day. I believe in time this decision, what I expect to be an unanimous decision of this House, will be looked upon as one of the critical points in the continued development and maturity of these islands as a constitutional democracy,” McLaughlin said he closed the debate on the government motion on the changes.
Declaring the vote, House Speaker McKeeva Bush announced the division of 18 ayes and zero against.
“If I could vote I would say aye too,” Bush quipped.
While there was consensus, Opposition Leader Arden McLean still maintained his concern over the governor’s ability to address the legislature.
It leaves the possibility for the “disruption of the political harmony” of the Cayman Islands, he said.
McLean, in a brief comment to the Cayman Compass on the passage of the motion, welcomed the unity demonstrated by fellow lawmakers through their unanimous support of the changes.
“It is important that the Legislative Assembly works in unison on matters of such importance to the country,” he said. “It is clear that the entire membership of our legislature recognises that this constitutional reform is important to the advancement of our autonomy and governance. I applauded the members for voting unanimously in support of the changes.”
Legislators, in their contributions, agreed with the changes, but they maintained that wider public involvement was needed.
To this end the premier announced the creation of a website, www.exploregov.ky/constitutionalreform, where the public can access key constitutional documents and give input.
North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, who was part of the negotiating team for the changes, welcomed Friday’s unanimous vote.
“These constitutional changes approved by the legislators tonight [Friday] will greatly enhance the ability of Caymanians to govern Cayman for Caymanians,” Miller told the Compass.
All legislators recognised the importance of the changes and the urgency to get it approved before the UK election is held on 12 Dec.
The changes that were debated were issued together with a letter from UK Overseas Territories Minister Lord Tariq Ahmad last month.
McLaughlin praised Ahmad and former UK Prime Minister Theresa May for their efforts during the negotiating process.
The UK would usually require a referendum for constitutional changes unless the reforms are declared by the premier and leader of the opposition to be minor or not controversial.
Both the premier and opposition leader agreed that while the changes were significant, they were not controversial and therefore a public referendum was not necessary.
Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders was a strong advocate for a referendum and said he still believes the public should have its say.
However, he still gave his support for the changes Friday as he said it was too important not to move the process forward.
“Our ability to govern comes from the consent of the governed, and as such, my first preference would have been that the proposed changes be done via a referendum. However, with the uncertainties in the current UK political landscape, I would prefer to explain my actions for supporting the proposed changes rather than my inactions in exposing the Cayman Islands to external threats that may affect our way of life,” Saunders told the Compass.