Premier Alden McLaughlin welcomed the renaming of Cayman’s Legislative Assembly to the House of Parliament on Friday, and signalled a need to continue to clear up “anomalies” in the constitution.
“I believe that despite the important changes that we are celebrating today, the Constitution still retains some provisions that could most charitably be described as ‘anachronistic,'” McLaughlin said as he delivered his address at the formal opening of the Cayman Islands Parliament.
Chief among those constitutional provisions that needles the premier is Section 81, which the UK had agreed to remove, only to later opt to retain in the recently enacted constitutional changes. Another is the governor being head of Cabinet.
“As the UK and His Excellency the Governor are aware, I still believe fervently that the Cayman Islands Cabinet must come to be chaired by the premier, who holds the highest elected, representative office in the Territory. If it were ever in doubt, this most recent Constitution Amendment Order makes it absolutely clear that the Cayman Islands Cabinet has autonomous responsibility for domestic policy,” he said as he delivered his speech at the opening of Parliament.
He said it is a “real anomaly, and indeed a contradiction in terms” that the UK-appointed governor still presides over Cabinet – “a Cabinet of which the governor is not a member and in which he or she has no vote.”
He lamented that his issue with this is that the governor chairing Cabinet “actively detracts from the position of the elected government having primacy over our domestic affairs that the rest of the Constitution now enshrines.”
McLaughlin said he hoped that a future premier will convince the UK government to correct the situation and make the necessary change to allow the premier to chair his or her Cabinet.
While Governor Martyn Roper acknowledged the premier’s position on the issue of leading Cabinet, he said the status quo will remain.
“Personally, I understand why the premier says that and I actually, I absolutely understand where it’s coming from. [I] think at the moment the UK feels that in all the overseas territories it’s just important if territories are British Overseas Territories that the governor retains that role. So that’s the sort of current UK line on that,” Roper told the Compass.
Section 81, election changes needed
McLaughlin also said he hoped a future premier can convince the UK to do away with Section 81.
“I still believe the retention of Section 81, allowing the governor to legislate directly in areas of the governor’s special responsibilities, is one such provision that needs to be abolished,” he said.
On Friday, Cayman became the third overseas territory to have a Parliament, as the Legislative Assembly was formally renamed. Bermuda and Gibraltar are the other two.
Legislators, who will now be referred to as Members of Parliament, marked the occasion that was years in the making.
Premier McLaughlin, who successfully negotiated the constitutional changes that led to the renaming of the Legislative Assembly, commended all who assisted.
He welcomed the UK’s support, but added that if Britain wished to avoid driving the Territories to choose independence, “particularly before they are ready, then it must allow the OT’s greater autonomy over our destinies.”
“This includes the ability for the Territories to make our own mistakes and to learn from them. The UK must not feel that it is bound to intervene every time it believes that a Territory has made or is making a mistake,” he said.
Opposition Leader Arden McLean, in his speech to mark the occasion, said he saw it as a “step forward towards greater self-determination.”
“Changing the nomenclature to Parliament will hopefully give a level of autonomy and greater recognition… History will reveal that each time this country took steps forward, it has served us well,” he said.
However, McLean renewed his call for electoral reform.
McLean pressed the need for changes that would stop the removal of names from the voters’ list because of time spent away from Cayman.
“Their absence does not mean they have any less interest in or are any less informed about the political landscape of this country than those who are here. In fact the contrary may be true,” he said.
He also said qualification for elected membership, especially based on time spent within the country, needs immediate action.
“Those qualifications requirements are dated and need to be eliminated now. Too many otherwise eligible Caymanians have been disenfranchised from participating in the democratic process as a result of these draconian provisions. These too will require constitutional change,” he said in his speech.
McLean advocated for an elections commission, which he said would correct another process in the “long and arduous journey” of autonomy for Cayman. That process being the governor having authority over elections.
The East End MP told the Compass he was pleased to see the name change to House of Parliament.
The now in effect Cayman Islands Constitution (Amendment) Order 2020 brought into force a provision that obliges the UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to notify the premier of proposed acts of the UK Parliament that would extend directly to the Cayman Islands, or Orders in Council extending any provisions of an Act of the UK Parliament to the Cayman Islands, so that the Cabinet can provide its views on proposed changes.
The changes also abolished the governor’s power of disallowance and introduces some pre-legislative controls.
It is now clearer that the Cayman Islands Cabinet has autonomous capacity with respect to domestic affairs, and it changes the circumstances in which the governor must consult the Cabinet.
The change provides for an additional minister, which takes effect after the upcoming general election, parliamentary secretaries and a Police Service Commission.
Governor Roper, in his Throne Speech, congratulated Cayman on the new chapter in its political landscape.
He also paid tribute to the government for its handling of the pandemic and spoke with optimism about the future, highlighting the opportunity to build back greener.
“As UK Ministers said at the recent Joint Ministerial Council virtual meeting, the constitutional talks with Cayman were a role model for how such talks should be conducted and one other Territories could follow,” said Roper.
He also addressed the Section 81 issue, which is the provision he used to enact the Civil Partnership Law after the Domestic Partnership Bill failed in the LA, saying its use was exceptional and rare, “reflecting the specific circumstances that arose from the UK’s international legal obligations under the European Convention on Human rights.”
“It is incorrect, as some have suggested, to see its use as implying more activism on the part of the UK. Nor should its retention in any way detract from the significant achievements embodied in the other amendments,” Roper added.
He said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson extended congratulations on the constitutional changes, which the British lawmaker said, “signal how far they have come in developing into a mature democracy.”
“New powers come with a heavy burden of responsibility, which no politician should bear lightly, but I am confident that the members of the Cayman Islands Parliament will build upon the successes of recent decades, which have propelled the Islands forward as a modern democracy working in partnership with the United Kingdom,” Johnson said.
He read congratulatory messages from the Prince of Wales and Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, who was UK Minister for the Overseas Territories at the start of the negotiations.
“I congratulate the Honourable Premier who played a pivotal role and leaves these changes as part of his substantial legacy. I also congratulate the then Leader of the Opposition, current Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and other members of the negotiating team, for the role they played in securing a successful negotiation. I look forward to working with the new Cayman Islands Parliament,” Ahmad said in his message.
Following the opening inside the House, a special unveiling ceremony was held at which MPs Barbara Conolly – also deputy speaker – Capt. Eugene Ebanks, Austin Harris and David Wight all received Instruments of Appointment as Parliamentary Secretaries from the governor.
All 18 representatives present and the two ex-officio MPs received symbolic keys to the Parliament from Speaker McKeeva Bush, crafted in Caymanite by local artist Horacio Esteban.
The premier presented them with framed copies of a document outlining their new status as Members of Parliament, which included a copy of a specially commissioned painting of the Parliament building by artist Gordon Solomon.
Parliament will resume its sitting on Monday.