Talks to remain closed

| 30/09/2008

(CNS): The Leader of the British Foreign & Commonwealth delegation, Ian Hendry (left), said that the constitutional talks between the UK-FCO Team and the Cayman Islands delegation would remain behind closed doors, as he did not wish to see grandstanding getting in the way of possible agreement. The public talks request was made by McKeeva Bush during his opening statement, when he said keeping the talks private defeated the purpose of having them in the Cayman Islands.

 “We are grateful that these meetings are being held in the Cayman Islands in accordance with the recommendations of Foreign Affairs Committee July 2008 report on Overseas Territories, but are disappointed that the full benefits of having these meeting here are not being realised by having them closed to the public,” said Bush. “The desire of this recommendation was to ensure that the local population did not feel distant from the process. Failing to allow the people an opportunity to listen in has negated the benefit of these talks being in Cayman. They might as well have been in the UK.”

In response, Hendry said that not only did he not have the authority to say the talks could be open but he had no desire to see them take place in the public spotlight, as he felt it could be detrimental. “It is not a sensible way to conduct negotiations and there is no precedent for constitutional negotiations being held in public and there are good reasons,” he said. “If the discussions are held in public, we will not reach a conclusion. This is a negotiation not an academic debate. We need compromise and persuasion and I know from bitter experience if negotiations are held in private we are more likely to see concessions and forbearance. In public we would get grandstanding.”

Hendry did say, however, that he was happy to meet the press at the end of the four days on Thursday. At the close of the first day CNS learned that while the delegates had all agreed not to talk publicly about the discussions until the end of this first round, the first day did not see anything of any importance concluded.

The first two hours of the session, when each party laid out its position, were open to the press. All eyes were on the opposition delegation, which was the last to arrive and made a damning presentation with regard to their treatment during the constitutional review process and its legitimacy. “We are of the firm view that the process has not done full justice in bringing about constitutional consensus.  Our concerns are centred on the lack of objectivity and balance in the process,” said Bush.

He also made it clear that his party did not believe there was local support for some of the fundamental changes the government was proposing. “We maintain that the PPM administration has failed in bringing about national consensus on some of the more salient aspects of their proposals, Bush said. “The UDP is cognisant more than most that our political system is not as mature as other territories and considers the timely and systematic approach of devolving power to elected representatives as opposed to the sweeping approach embedded in the government proposals.

However, in his opener, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts had made it very clear that the Cayman Islands was seeking greater decision-making powers for the elected government.  “Our growing maturity as a nation underscores the need for a Constitution which gives Caymanians, through their elected Government, a greater say in crucial decisions affecting our country,” said the LoGB. “The people of the Cayman Islands, through their government, need to play a greater role in key decision making which affects local matters and local interests. This is particularly true in relation to key aspects of governance like national security and the conclusion of international agreements. In essence, what we are seeking is a sharing of decision-making responsibility with the United Kingdom.”

He said there was no desire for independence, but the country has reached a stage in its development where the legislature and Cabinet should fully reflect the democratic will of the people. He added that as the UK had actively supported the worldwide trend of democratisation, it should appreciate that the presence of non-elected members with casting votes in both the legislature and Cabinet goes against the trend.

Laying out the UK position, Hendry gave very little away except to say that it wanted to see a bill of rights chapter in any new constitution. “The United Kingdom negotiating team approach constitutional review with no preconceived agenda,” he said. “We are ready to explore and discuss any proposals the Cayman Islands delegation might advance.”

He added that the United Kingdom team will be striving for the best possible outcome for the Cayman Islands that is consistent with the United Kingdom’s continuing responsibilities for the territory.

“These responsibilities include ensuring good governance, a non-political civil service and police force, the independence of the judiciary, the maintenance of law and order, the fulfilment of international obligations, and the minimisation of contingent liabilities,” he said.

He explained that in the absence of agreement, the current Constitution of the Cayman Islands would continue, but if there was agreement the UK would want to see evidence that it had the support of the people of the Cayman Islands.  He also said nothing is agreed in the process of negotiation until everything is agreed.

The Chamber of Commerce, the Cayman Ministers’ Association, the Mission of Seventh-Day Adventists and the Human Rights Committee also laid out the details of their positions and raised a number of issues that they were very keen top see addressed during the process, including the desire by the Human Rights Committee to see the application of human rights horizontally as well as vertically, and the churches’ desire for the opposite. The Chamber made some emphatic points about curbing potential abuse of power. “Extraordinary events involving inappropriate behaviour and actions by the United Kingdom through a former attorney general and serious allegations against senior officials in our courts and police systems have alarmed our membership,” said Wil Pineau CEO of Chamber.

(See CNS tomorrow for details of NGO positions)


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