Premier Alden McLaughlin defended the legality of the Cayman Islands Regiment on Monday as he piloted the Defence Bill in the Legislative Assembly.
The bill, which sets out the legal framework for the new entity, is one of 11 pieces of legislation before the fourth sitting of the first meeting of the House for the 2020/2021 session.
McLaughlin, in his introduction of the bill, dismissed claims being made on local talk shows and in the public domain that the regiment was not legal because it was established before its governing law was enacted.
“That has been a matter that has truly affected many members of the regiment and quite frankly the charges are completely without basis. I don’t hear anyone claiming that the coast guard is illegal. We have had that up and running now for almost two years. We are still working on the legislation that will underpin the coast guard,” he said.
The premier said the regiment is something Caymanians should be proud of as it is a step forward for the country and the fruition of efforts to create the long-sought entity.
“Not only will it be good for the country, but having a trained and disciplined force in Cayman will have a positive impact on youth development and leadership in our Islands. This new regiment, along with the increased resilience of our air operations and the great work done by our Hazard Management team to prepare [for] and coordinate disasters, will help us meet the needs of our Islands today and into the future,” the premier said as he made his case for support of the bill.
McLaughlin also dismissed criticism that the regiment would be used at the UK’s behest as a military force.
“I have heard this particular line being hammered over and over again on some of the talk shows. What has been said is a complete and utter untruth. The Cayman Islands Regiment is not a part of Her Majesty’s military forces. Even if we wanted it to be, Section 347 of the British Armed Forces Act prevents it from being so,” he argued.
Enlistment for the regiment, he said, is entirely voluntary.
“There is no question of there being conscription or, in US-speak, drafting of persons into the regiment,” he said.
The bill, he said, provides for the governance and management of the newly established regiment, which he reiterated was a “reserve force whose duties include the defence of these Islands, providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, assisting the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and the Cayman Islands Coast Guard when called upon, as well as participating during ceremonial occasions.”
It is also in line with the exercise of the governor’s powers and duties relating to matters of defence, including armed forces, he said.
“Just to make it clear, this is entirely in keeping with the governor’s constitutional powers including those in Section 55, which are known as the special responsibilities of the governor. The governor has exclusive responsibility for defence,” he said.
Under the proposed law, however, there are provisions set out for the governor to consult with the premier on matters relating to the regiment.
“The governor can, in appropriate cases, delegate various functions relating to the operations of the regiment to a minister after consultation with the premier,” he added.
However, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller and West Bay North MLA Bernie Bush both said they will not support the bill in its present form.
Miller, in his contribution to debate on the proposed legislation, said what is being presented as the regiment in the bill was different from what was sold to the public and he was not comfortable with it.
“I support the roles that they (Governor Martyn Roper and the premier) detailed for this regiment, that is that it would be concerned with providing humanitarian assistance and relief and assisting the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service,” he said.
The issue of defence of Cayman, he contended, never arose.
Miller said he was “concerned” by what he has seen thus far as the 51 reservists are wearing military fatigues and there was talk of a shipment of guns sent to Cayman for the regiment.
“If that is true, Caymanians need to be informed about what was included in that shipment of arms for that regiment,” he argued.
He said it seems that what is being created is an army rather than a humanitarian force.
Miller said he was disappointed that there was little public consultation on what they would have liked the regiment to include.
“Some of the things in there are too colonial for Ezzard Miller,” he said.
He also questioned proposed jail time for military breaches in the bill especially since the entity is meant to be a voluntary force.
The independent Opposition MLA also questioned what disaster relief training was given to the members of the regiment.
Miller said he was prepared to support the bill if the amendments he proposed, including removing defence and jail time, are removed in committee stage.
Bush shared Miller’s concerns as he questioned the haste to get the bill through now when there are other pressing issues like foreclosures to deal with.
He also claimed there was a lot of “mistrust” for the UK in Cayman.
Opposition leader Arden McLean was making his contribution to the debate before the lunch break.
He questioned why more funding was not pumped into the Cayman Islands Cadet Corps rather than a regiment.
He is set to resume his contribution this afternoon.