Wayne Panton was officially confirmed as the new premier of the Cayman Islands on Wednesday afternoon, vowing to unite the country and build a fairer Cayman.
The independent MP for Newlands was the only person nominated for the role as the 19 new Members of Parliament met for the first time since last week’s general election.
Dressed in a black suit and purple tie, Panton gave a brief smile of satisfaction as he accepted the instruments of office from Governor Martyn Roper, bringing to an end a tumultuous week in Cayman’s political history.
There were cheers in the gallery and from the crowd watching on large screens under tented canopies outside Parliament as the new premier was confirmed.
Panton will lead a team of independent representatives, dubbed PACT, with Bodden Town West MP Chris Saunders as his deputy.
- Premier: Wayne Panton
- Deputy premier: Chris Saunders
- Cabinet: Andre Ebanks, Kenneth Bryan, Bernie Bush, Sabrina Turner, Johany Ebanks, Juliana O’Connor-Connolly.
- Speaker: McKeeva Bush
- Deputy Speaker: Katherine Ebanks-Wilks
- Leader of the Opposition: Roy McTaggart
- Deputy Leader of the Opposition: Joey Hew
The new cabinet will include Panton and Saunders alongside Sabrina Turner, Andre Ebanks, Kenneth Bryan, Johany Ebanks, Bernie Bush, and Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who switched sides at the last minute to take a ministerial post.
The portfolios for each Cabinet member has yet to be announced.
Speaking outside Parliament after his election, Panton said it was an “awesome” privilege to lead Cayman.
He said the “love, encouragement, words of support and unwavering belief” of the people had helped him through “one of the longest weeks of my life”.
“The Caymanian people have spoken loudly and clearly. We are charged with being their voice, their advocates and their representatives.”
Panton added that all 19 MPs now have a constitutional and moral responsibility to help ensure the will of the voters is reflected in the policies of the next government.
He had some words of conciliation for former premier Alden McLaughlin after a fractious week of negotiations, thanking him for his service and for the “miracle of life without masks” that Cayman still enjoys amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the country would “forever be thankful” for his leadership and vowed not to reopen the islands’ borders until it was safe to do so.
After a week of tense negotiations, during which the Progressives and Panton’s team both struggled to firm up their coalitions, the transition on the day was relatively smooth.
Despite the uncertainty of the last seven days, Panton said democracy had worked as it should, and he called for calm and unity.
“The campaign … is over,” he said, “and the songs, memes, posts, photos, dances and rants that have filled up our social media space during the campaign and shortly thereafter must now cease. We must always ensure that our behaviour reflects dignity and respect, even for those we may disagree with and this contributes positively to our national discourse.”
There was a jubilant atmosphere among the supporters of the independent coalition and the friends and families as the new cabinet was officially sworn in by Roper outside of Parliament.
Panton, speaking just after 6:30pm, said, “Today, this moment, this time, belongs to all of us who believe their government should be, can be and must be people-driven accountable, competent and transparent.”
The last five words of that statement are the basis for the PACT acronym his group has assumed.
Panton seeks a ‘fairer’ Cayman
“The independent candidates won the largest share of the vote,” he added.
Despite some policy differences within the group, he said they had focussed on what united them and would collectively seek to tackle income inequality and create a fairer Cayman.
He said they would seek to “uplift and better the lives of every Caymanian and those who call the Cayman Islands home”.
Highlighting inequality, environmental concerns and rising cost of living among key issues, he said his group would fight for equality for all.
As the light faded outside Parliament, Panton vowed to introduce sustainable policies to protect the environment.
He spoke out against divisions based on race or nationality, saying, “We are one Cayman and must continue to build on that going forward.”
The former environment minister was able to deliver his victory speech after a difficult week of talks to secure an independent-led coalition.
The final pieces fell into place on the morning of the ceremony.
McKeeva Bush confirmed Monday he had agreed to become speaker and assist Panton in forming a government.
But it was not until early Wednesday, when O’Connor-Connolly and Isaac Rankine’s switches were confirmed that he was able to shore up a majority.
After the ceremonies, there were 11 members on the government benches and seven, led by Roy McTaggart, the new leader of the opposition, on the other side.
Bush was re-elected as speaker after a tense secret ballot, which went 12-7 in his favour. Katherine Ebanks-Wilks was voted in as his deputy.
The Progressives had put Barbara Conolly forward as an alternative for both roles.
Bush: Our democracy remains intact
One of the few people to speak at the official ceremony, Bush said, “Our democracy, once again, has been tried and tested and our democracy remains intact. No guns boomed.”
He praised Panton as a “capable lawyer and businessman” who would lead a strong team.
“This cabinet is as good as any I have seen. They must be given the chance to do the work they were elected to do,” he said.
There was no direct reference to the controversy surrounding his conviction for assaulting a woman, a discussion that dominated the pre-election debate, with many candidates, including Panton, saying they would not work with Bush.
As part of his agreement with the independent group, Bush gave an apology, vowed to sign a code of conduct, and offered a portion of his salary to the Crisis Centre – an offer which the charity’s board rejected.
As he donned the speaker’s wig and gown once more, he said it was time to move on.
“Caymanians must pull together and there is no time to bicker and plot.”
He added, “Mistakes are in the past, we move forward now. We move forward ever upwards and onwards.”
Roper highlights challenges ahead
Governor Martyn Roper, who presided over the official ceremonies and swore in the 19 MPs, told them, “You are privileged to have been chosen by our people to represent them.
“I urge you to have the best interests of the people of these wonderful islands in your hearts and minds.”
He highlighted challenges ahead to “reopen the borders and build back better in the midst of this global pandemic”.
Roper paid tribute to outgoing premier Alden McLaughlin for his service and for his leadership during COVID and expressed confidence in the new crop of MPs and in the new government.
He described the last week as being a “tense and, at times, challenging one for everyone”, but he said he hoped Cayman’s people could put this behind them. He called for unity and for the community to support the new government, as he urged people to treat each other with “courtesy, dignity, respect and fairness at all times”.