Following two days of debate, a bill to give statutory underpinning to the Cayman Islands Regiment passed a second reading in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday evening.
Opposition legislators had raised several concerns about the Defence Bill, including what they considered to be an overreach in the power of the Governor’s Office regarding the regiment, which already has more than 50 members.
After many hours of debate and discussion, the government made a number of amendments to the wording of the bill to address the issues put forward by the lawmakers. A new draft version was distributed to members on Wednesday afternoon.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, who tabled the bill on Monday, outlined the rewording of several clauses to the legislation in his closing comments to the debate on Wednesday. He said it was possible further amendments to the bill could be made at the committee stage, prior to a third and final reading of the proposed legislation.
McLaughlin said he had listened as MLAs analysed and criticised elements of the bill “that they felt were incongruous, and in some instances, quite correctly pointed out areas where they felt there was overreach and potential for decision-making by the governor… with respect to deployment of [the] regiment”.
To appease concerns that the present or any future governor could unilaterally deploy members of the regiment to conflicts or disasters in foreign countries or other British Overseas Territories without consultation with the local government, McLaughlin said that part of the legislation would include a provision that the premier of Cayman must be consulted before such action could be taken.
Local deployment of the regiment could still be done without consultation with the premier, McLaughlin said, as this would fall under the governor’s remit of internal security.
The wording “in consultation with the premier” was added to other provisions of the bill.
McLaughlin said the Governor’s Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had been consulted about and agreed to the various rewordings of the bill.
The premier pointed out that, under the Constitution, the governor is currently responsible for defence, external affairs, the public service, and internal security, which includes the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, Coast Guard, and now, the Cayman Islands Regiment which would assist the uniformed services in humanitarian relief efforts and disaster management and response.
McLaughlin denied accusations that the bill was retroactive, saying the regiment was established using “transitional provisions” that are commonly used in legislation.
Independent member Ezzard Miller, the representative for North Side, in his contribution to the debate, raised several concerns, many of which the premier addressed. Among those was a provision regarding a Defence Board. The original version of the bill called for a five-member board, the chairmanship of which the governor could take over if he saw fit. In the reworked version of the bill, the board would have seven members, four of whom would be appointed by the governor, two would be appointed on the advice of the premier and one selected on the advice of the leader of the opposition.
Miller had also pointed out that the wording of the original bill seemed to limit membership of the regiment to certain nationalities, including Caymanians, British citizens, British Overseas Territories citizens, and Commonwealth or Irish citizens who are permanent residents of the Cayman Islands.
McLaughlin suggested a rewording of that clause also, agreeing that as Cayman is home to people from some 130 nationalities, restrictions should not placed upon where permanent residents originally hailed from. The bill was reworked to state that permanent residents of any nationality could join.
He stated that the amended bill meant the premier of the islands would have more input in decisions regarding the regiment.
McLaughlin congratulated members on working together to come up with a “much better law”.
“I cannot claim that every issue has been able to be addressed to [members’] satisfaction,” the premier said, but added that he believed that “about 80% of issues raised” had led to some concessions and amendments in the final version of the bill.
Read the original version of the bill here. The Compass will publish the reworded draft of the bill once it is available.