The proverbial dust has now settled on the 2021 election, with Cayman’s PACT government, led by Premier Wayne Panton, in place with the new leadership ready to get to work.
“This is when all the talk has to stop and the hard work has to begin,” Panton, the newly elected Newlands MP, told the Cayman Compass at the House of Parliament, hours after being sworn in on 21 April.
Panton and his Cabinet held their first meeting on 22 April, to discuss their way forward and portfolio assignments, among other issues.
The premier said he and his team were glad to get to the point of finalising the new administration, but now “the hard work starts going forward now”.
He added, “We have a lot of people that are looking to us for guidance, looking to us for support, looking to us to take the country forward in a way that benefits them, that addresses a lot of the issues that exist that they’ve been concerned about… It is now our obligation and duty to do this.”
While his team consists of new independents as well as Progressives member Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who broke ranks to be part of the government, Panton said he is confident in their resolve to effect change as the responsibility of running the jurisdiction falls on their shoulders.
“We have a young government, but you know what, there’s always the talk about Caymanians not being experienced enough. Somebody has to start somewhere. We’ll get good training for these guys and these ladies and I am sure they’ll do a fantastic job because they have it right here in their heart, they care, they are concerned about the people and they will deliver for their people to make their lives better,” he said.
Deputy Premier Chris Saunders shared Panton’s view, saying the focus now is on setting Cayman on the right course.
“There is a lot of stuff that we campaigned on and there are a lot of people still struggling, the borders are still closed, the economy is not at 100%. One of our first priorities is to get our strategies lined up and try to hit the ground running,” he said.
He said it is full steam ahead, “there is no time to celebrate”.
The premier acknowledged criticism levelled against him for joining forces with West Bay West MP McKeeva Bush when he was adamantly against him after his arrest and conviction for assaulting the female bar manager at Coral Beach last year.
“We can’t ignore the fact that he is a re-elected member, he’s a representative for West Bay West. He’s a part of Parliament. There’s nothing we can do about it and, whatever our concerns are, we have to work with him because the people of West Bay West are our people as well,” he said.
Panton pointed out that the previous administration, which was led by then Premier Alden McLaughlin, called an early election and Bush was re-elected.
“They asked the country to vote on it,” he said.
It was in the face of mounting pressure and the Opposition’s plan to bring a no-confidence motion on Bush that the Progressives-led administration called the early election. However, prior to this, McLaughlin said he could not remove Bush as his government would have collapsed while they were in the midst of dealing with the pandemic.
The West Bay West MP had also refused to resign. McLaughlin did, however, opt not to call for a sitting of the House after Bush’s conviction, preventing the MP from exercising his duties as Speaker.
Bush looks to the future
Bush returned to the Speaker’s chair even after widespread public outcry to have him removed from the high-profile office.
The veteran MP hailed his triumphant return to the House saying he was “very optimistic” as the new PACT government took office.
“I think we have a good grassroots government. The people voted for change from the grassroots level and I think that the country has to take notice of that and the other powers that be,” he told the Cayman Compass in an interview on 21 April.
People, he said, wanted to see changes that they believe will affect their children’s future positively, “a change for better with education, a change to lower the cost of living.”
Although his removal was part of that call for change, Bush did not appear phased by the criticism.
As part of his deal with PACT, Bush apologised for his actions last year surrounding the assault and subsequent conviction, and committed to paying 10% of his salary to the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre and to the immediate implementation of a parliamentary code of conduct.
The Crisis Centre board of directors declined his proposed donation.
“I have served the people in this country for 36 years. I’m human… I made mistakes, but there were other mistakes that were made, and I won’t get into that. I have made my apologies, my sincere apologies. I have enough people in my constituency that I give to every month. I give to people throughout this country… women, single mothers with children for all sorts of needs. So, I’ll continue to do that,” he said.
Bush’s ascent to the prized parliamentary seat was not without its moment of drama on 21 April, as the Roy McTaggart-led Opposition provoked a contested ballot for the election of the Speaker.
In a strategic move, to get every member’s position on Bush’s return clear from the start, the Progressives leader offered Barbara Conolly as nominee for Speaker. In doing so, he gave members a chance to take Bush out of the running, but in the end, the MPs voted along publicly-stated allegiances.
Although the ballot was secret, it seems logical to deduce everyone in the Progressives alliance voted for Conolly while Panton’s team, many of whom had been vocally against Bush on the campaign trail, gave him the thumbs-up for the post.
Bush said he did not have any doubts that he would be successful, “because I helped form the government with the PACT”.
Ebanks-Wilks lauds historic election of five female MPs
West Bay Central MP Katherine Ebanks-Wilks may have claimed the scalp of Captain Eugene Ebanks, ending his five-term winning streak, but, for her, the real historic win is that there are now more women legislators than at any other time.
“I’m very excited mainly just to know that I’m now a sworn-in member of Parliament, but especially for the women to be a part of history where we have now the largest number of women in Parliament. I feel that it’s a sure sign of progress,” Ebanks-Wilks told the Cayman Compass in a brief interview on 21 April.
She is one of five females MPs who were victorious at the polls, four of whom are on the government bench.
Ebanks-Wilks, who was originally tipped for a Cabinet spot in the PACT government, gave up her ministerial post when Progressives MP Juliana O’Connor-Connolly opted to switch to PACT.
While she will not hold a portfolio, Ebanks-Wilks was elected Deputy Speaker of the Parliament and will work together with Bush.
She said she was pleased to see the Caymanian people have been able to accomplish “what they set out and what they desired, which was an independent led-government. I’m really excited for what we’re going to do for the people of the Cayman Islands.”
Meanwhile, West Bay North MP Bernie Bush has been sworn in as a Cabinet member and he said he was honoured to serve in that capacity.
He said he was not sure what ministry he would be assigned, but he would like to take a stab at the fight to get Cayman kept off the blacklist.
“It is very humbling when you’re put in this position, with this much responsibility. It’s nothing but seriousness now, it has to be taken very seriously because you have to do things that can affect the lives of people. Our country here is a good place to live and we have to improve on what we have. We can’t hand it back to our children worse than what it was,” Bernie Bush said.
He added there is a lot of work to do, but the MP became emotional as he said he was looking forward to spending time with his daughter now that things have settled down.