Panton announces new deal to form government, with McKeeva Bush as Speaker

Progressives say numbers don't add up

Wayne Panton and McKeeva Bush
Panton announced plans for an independent coalition government with McKeeva Bush returning as Speaker.

Wayne Panton, the leader of the newly formed PACT Independent Group, announced a deal to form a government that would see McKeeva Bush return as Speaker of the House.

Panton named seven Cabinet members, including Chris Saunders, Kenneth Bryan, André Ebanks and Sabrina Turner, as his core team.

The announcement was immediately dismissed by the Progressives as “a ruse”.

Nonetheless, Panton appeared confident that he had secured the government.

In a press release from the “Office of the Premier Designate”, he said, “I am humbled to be leading a team with such diverse backgrounds which reflects a mix of political experience and youthful energy.

“It is clear from the electorate that they wanted the torch pass to the next generation, and I am honoured to be at the helm of such a transition in our history.”

This is the third government to have been announced since the election results came through on Wednesday night with the Progressives and their partners and Panton’s independent group locked in talks over a variety of possible coalitions for the last five days.

As it stands, Panton’s government would have nine members on the floor of the House. There would be nine members lining up in opposition, unless there are any further moves.

Bush, as Speaker, can only vote in specific circumstances.

Current Premier Alden McLaughlin said the numbers did not yet add up for the independent group.

“In our parliament of 19 members, a government of 10 members with one of them in the speaker’s chair is a hung parliament, incapable of passing legislation without the support of the opposition.

“They will not even be able to elect the premier. This is a ruse.”

According to the constitution, the Speaker cannot vote in Parliament “unless the votes are equally divided, in which case he or she shall have and exercise a casting vote”.

It does seem plausible on that basis that Panton’s group could elect him as Premier, when Parliament is called, albeit with the need for Bush to cast the final vote from the Speaker’s chair.

The Progressives later released a statement suggesting that the Speaker could not cast the deciding vote for Premier or help pass new laws.

Parliamentary convention throughout the Westminster system of government in the Commonwealth, requires that the casting vote given to the Speaker to break a tie be exercised only to preserve the status quo, not to pass legislation or to elect a new Premier,” Roy McTaggart said in a statement.

“Mr. Panton does not therefore have a viable government at this stage. This is merely a ruse and whilst Mr Panton may be able to fool some of the country with this tactic, he will not be able to fool the majority.”

The Progressives have indicated they are seeking legal advice and believe it would be “unlawful” to proceed on the basis proposed by Panton in his press release.

McTaggart said his team was still working to form a coalition government that could manage the “affairs of state” and stay united through “difficult times ahead.”

As has been seen over the past few days, announcements of governments on either side are provisional. The Constitution dictates that such deals can only be finalised through a vote in Parliament to elect the premier and swear in the ministers. That could happen as early as Wednesday if the governor agrees to Panton’s request.

Panton appeared confident that his partnership with Bush would secure the route of his PACT coalition to government.

The alliance with the West Bay legislator represents a U-turn for Panton, who cited the Progressives’ failure to break its partnership with the Speaker over his conviction for assaulting a woman, as one of the reasons for his decision to leave the party and contest the 2021 election as an independent candidate.

The announcement of the decision was accompanied by a written apology from Bush and a commitment to donate 10% of his salary to the Crisis Centre.

Bush was convicted in December last year of assaulting the female bar manager at Coral Beach. Controversy over the failure of the government to force his departure from the Speaker’s chair, as opposition legislators called for a vote of no confidence in the house, forced the early elections.

Bush said he had been in talks with the independents for three days and had now agreed to be Speaker. As a condition of the role, he said, he had also agreed to immediate implementation of a code of conduct for all Parliamentarians “where any infractions would lead to immediate dismissal from their position”.

Bush said in his statement, “As many of you are aware, many members of the PACT Alliance campaigned against me.

“Like all Caymanians, that is their democratic right to promote their principles and values, and I respect their right to do so.

“While the election, and post-election discussions were heated, I am encouraged and inspired by the patriotism of Premier Designate, G. Wayne Panton, members of the PACT Independents, and their families who chose to put aside personal differences in the interest of our country.”

He said it was clear that the country wanted an independent government and pointed out that he had also contested the election as an independent.

Panton named his Cabinet as:

  • Premier – G. Wayne Panton, MP Elect, Newlands
  • Deputy Premier – Christopher Saunders, MP Elect, Bodden Town West
  • Minister – Kenneth V. Bryan, MP Elect, George Town Central
  • Minister – Sabrina Turner, MP Elect, Prospect
  • Minister – André M. Ebanks, MP Elect, West Bay South
  • Minister – Katherine Ebanks-Wilks, MP Elect, West Bay Central
  • Minister – Johany S. ‘Jay’ Ebanks, MP Elect, North Side
  • Minister – Bernie A. Bush, MP Elect, West Bay North

Heather Bodden would serve as a parliamentary secretary, he indicated.

He added, “I want to thank Premier McLaughlin and his team for their service to our islands as public service is still a noble calling.

“I also want to use this opportunity to thank the other Parliamentarians who also served our islands over the past 4 years but were unsuccessful at the polls. In their contributions, they have left their fingerprints on the development of our islands.”

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  1. This is about as low a the government can get. This guy quits because of Bush and then agrees to have him as part of the government. Hypocrite is what he is. The two leaders should get together and form a unity government for the good of the country