Ten issues to address in UK

| 18/01/2009

(CNS): When the constitutional talks move to London next month there will be ten points that the delegation still has to resolve before the Cayman Islands has a draft constitution that can be put before the people for referendum this coming May. At the closing session of last week’s talks, Sir Ian Hendry, leader of the UK delegation, stated that the talks had moved further ahead than expected as a result of give and take but there was still work to do.

The ten points include the bill of rights as a whole and whether to include a future right to self determination; a requirement to consult with the Cayman government over the appointment of a governor; the question of whether it should be enshrined that the governor be expressly required to act in the interests of the Cayman Islands; the definition of the powers of newly proposed security council and the involvement of the role of the leader of the opposition; the governor’s reserve powers; the language on how Cayman will be consulted on legislation made by the UK that impacts directly on the territory; the question of term limits for what will become the premier; the issue of a gap for those leaving the civil service before running for political office; the question oflimits on public debt; and lastly, the requirement for changes in the constitution to be made only by referendum.

Hendry said some were merely technical and language issues while other points would require political decisions by the overseas territories minister. He stated that a revised working draft of this round of talks would now be put together as quickly as possible and sent back to Cayman and that he was happy for that to be a public document. After that, if the London talks set for the first week of February were successful, then a proposed constitution would be written as quickly as possible and returned for the referendum. “With further help and cooperation, we will see the ship safely into port in a few weeks and then it is up to the people to decide if the work we have done is acceptable,” Hendry added.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said in his closing statement that he believed a modern constitution was finally in sight, one that he described not as an off the peg model but designed to meet the unique needs of the Cayman Islands. “I am optimistic we can deliver a modern constitutional framework to the people,” he said. “We must await the next draft and the final round of talks but there is broad agreement on key features.”

He noted some areas of disagreement, including the bill of rights, which he said had been the most difficult and potentially deal breaking part of and talks. Tibbetts said the need for it to conform to the UK’s treaties and international obligations while preserving the distinct culture and Christian heritage of Cayman had been difficult to reconcile.

“We believe that we have settled on a text for the bill of rights that everyone can support even though everyone could not get everything,” he added. The Human Rights Committee however, later rejected the compromises in its closing statement and criticized the changes made to the non-discrimination clauses. (See here for full details)

Tibbetts said another difficult area had been the issue of the powers of the governor and getting the balance between those and elected officials’ powers. “While we want to maintain strong links with the UK, we feel the country is mature enough to manage its affairs in accountability of the elected officials and I am pleased that there will be more consultation with the elected cabinet,” he added.

Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush noted that, as important as the talks were, they were not necessarily the most important thing in view of the many problems the country faced at the moment. He described them as tedious and noted that, while the UDP was in agreement in several areas, there were still key points on which the opposition was not moving from its position.

“At the end of day, the public will vote for what they deem is necessary for good governance. It is our duty to fully inform them of what is beingproposed and the ramifications on their lives,” he said. “We must be careful of trespassing on areas where there is no support from the public.”

He also warned of the dangers of the legislature jumping at every whim or fancy because they exist in other territories. “I have listened carefully to the people, and while the UK might want modernization, people here are weary of politics that encroaches more and more on the serenity and peaceful nature of these islands,” he said. “More politics won’t help us. A constitution that places power in the hands of politicians when the people don’t fully understand why and without the necessary experience and knowledge won’t help us.”

Bush also said the politics proposed in the constitution is not going to enhance government but would create more money to be spent and more adversarial politics.

Speaking on the behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, President Eddie Thompson said the organisaiton was pleased to see that most of the positions it had adopted over years had been incorporated in the document, but like the HRC it was keen to see the final draft written in plain English.

The Seventh Day Adventists representative, Pastor Eric Clark, said he was pleased with the progress but still raised the point that there should be no compromise over spiritual issues and was still concerned over the bill of rights. Pastor Al Ebanks, the Chair of the Cayman Ministers’ Association, said he was very optimistic that the CMA would be able to throw its weight around the principle points with regard to the difficult section of the bill of rights. He said that it looked like the talks had carved out a document conforming to international standards but reflecting Cayman’s heritage. He said he knew that the presence of the church representation was unusual but he believed it had added value to talks and that CMA had been involved for ten years, with particular interest in bill of rights.

The HRC was the group which was clearly the most disappointed with the outcome and noted five serious points of concern, not least the fact that the non-discrimination right would not be a stand alone right but be restricted to the context of the constitution. 

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