In the face of mounting public pressure, House Speaker McKeeva Bush has taken a leave of absence from his post with immediate effect.
In a brief statement issued to the Cayman Compass Wednesday evening, Bush said, “After careful thought and advice, I will take an immediate leave of absence from the duties of speakership.
“I will be doing the grief counseling and emotional stress management sessions that I spoke about and that I should have done a long time ago.”
Bush’s announcement followed a meeting with Premier Alden McLaughlin in London in the wake of allegations that the West Bay West MLA was involved in the assault of a female bar manager on Friday night.
McLaughlin, in a statement to the Compass Wednesday night, said he welcomed the Speaker’s decision.
“This will enable him to deal with the personal issues he identified in his previous statement and also allow the investigation currently underway to be completed unhindered by perceptions,” the premier said.
McLaughlin added, “I wish Mr. Bush the very best as he seeks to resolve his personal issues.”
Bush, who is deputy chair of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Small Branches Executive Council, was in London for a previously arranged CPA meeting.
McLaughlin, who is also in London on official business dealing with the European Union’s blacklist, met with the Speaker to talk about the allegations.
There was no immediate word on how long Bush’s leave of absence will be or who will act as Speaker in his absence. Usually, the Deputy Speaker would temporarily take up the role, but the current deputy, Bernie Bush, has announced that he has resigned from the position.
Miller: ‘Leave of absence’ not constitutional
In a statement Thursday, Opposition MLA Ezzard Miller questioned the constitutionality of McKeeva Bush taking a leave of absence, and he maintained his call for Bush to resign as Speaker.
“The only immediately available constitutional provisions that would allow him the time he needs is carried in section 65 (2) b. [of the Constitution] – that he resigns his position as Speaker. Otherwise, the only other provision [section 65 (2) f.] is removal by a two-thirds vote by the elected Members of the Legislative Assembly pursuant to a vote of no confidence,” Miller said in his statement.
Section 65 (1) deals with who can be Speaker and how a Speaker is elected. Section 65 (2) deals with how the Speaker’s post can become vacant and how the Speaker can be removed from office, and Section 65 (3) deals with how a vacancy in the office of Speaker can be filled.
“The only section of the Constitution that deals with mental issues is section 62 that deals with disqualification for elected membership of the Legislature. Specifically, section 62 (1) d. states that disqualification applies to “a person certified to be insane or otherwise adjudged to be of unsound mind under any law in force in the Cayman Islands.” For clarification purposes, this is not to be taken that I am suggesting that this section be invoked in this matter with the Speaker,” Miller said.
Miller claimed that while the premier’s decision to grant the Speaker a leave of absence “may be an acceptable political solution to some”, questions still remain.
“Who has granted the Speaker a ‘leave of absence’ – surely the Speaker cannot grant himself a leave of absence. What section of the Cayman Islands Constitutional Order 2009 authorises or enables anyone to grant the Speaker a leave of absence?” he asked.
However, the premier, responding to Miller’s statement Thursday, told the Compass, “Mr. Bush has taken a temporary leave of absence for a yet undetermined period to deal with the personal issues he has mentioned in both his statements. He has not vacated the office of Speaker. There is nothing unconstitutional or unprecedented in the Speaker taking a leave of absence. This is exactly what would be done if he was physically ill and unable to carry out his duties as Speaker.”
He added that, as premier, he has no authority to grant Bush leave. “Indeed, the Constitution does not make provision for anyone to grant the Speaker leave. But it does make provision for who presides in the Speaker’s absence.”
Section 72 of the Constitution 2009, McLaughlin said, mandates that “a) Speaker shall preside at Legislative Assembly sittings, or b) in his absence the Deputy Speaker, or c) in the absence of both Speaker and Deputy Speaker, such as one of the other elected MLAs (other than a Minister), as may be elected by the elected MLAs.”
He added that under Section 65 (2) of the Constitution, a person shall vacate the office of Speaker or Deputy Speaker if he or she informs the Assembly in writing and addresses to the Assembly that he or she has resigned.
Miller, in his statement, pointed out that there are many other undisclosed details on Bush’s leave of absence, such as the terms and conditions, the period of leave and date of commencement, the kind of professional help being sought, and who acts as Speaker in his absence.