Divides revealed as talks start

| 14/01/2009

(CNS): Despite an optimistic opening tone from Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts and the FCO delegation leader, Sir Ian Hendry (left), the open statements of the second round of constitutional talks revealed that a considerable amount of disagreement remains between the parties. Both church representatives indicated that the UK’s working draft document was unacceptable, and Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said there was too much politics in it and not enough representation.

While Hendry and Tibbetts said they were optimistic of reaching agreement on a potential draft constitution by the end of the week, points presented around the table suggested this will be easier said than done, when fundamental objections were raised by the Cayman Ministers’ Association (CMA) and the Seventh Day Adventists (SDA), as well as the Leader of the Oppositions comments that the UDP would fight some of the issues.

Speaking afterwards, Tibbetts, who congratulated everyone on the progress made, suggested the difference were not so great and could easily be resolved if everyone entered in to the spirit of compromise. Bush, whose remarks were exceptionally short, said there were parts of the document which the UDP supported and parts that they will fight against. “One thing I know is that the people of these islands want less politics not more and I believe this will give us more politics, this will give us more in-fighting not less and then not enough representation.”

Pastor Al Ebanks, representing the CMA, and Eric Clark, representing the SDA, both had issues with the working draft composed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in October on which the talks were now being based.

Ebanks and Clark pointed to issues in the bill of rights, which they said they could not accept as it stood. While Ebanks also questioned the part of the constitution dealing with the governor’s powers, saying that CMA did not believe any person should be above the law, his main concerns focused directly on the bill of rights.

He said that given the support for CMA’s position in the community it had “no option but to state emphatically that we cannot support the current draft proposals as put forward by HMG.”

Ebanks said he had particular concerns over the non-discrimination provision in the bill of rights and he said that he felt the UK’s working draft had moved away from the position established on the bill of rights during the first round of talks. He indicated that the language had changed to widen the non-discrimination section to cover “any such” and “other status” from what had originally been a specific list of things that did not include sexual orientation. He said by changing the language this left the constitution open to undefined categories of discrimination.

He also raised concerns about the language of application and was concerned that the UK draft invited the possibility of horizontal application of the Bill of Rights and not, as had been agreed in September, merely vertical.  

The bill of rights was also an issue for Melanie McLaughlin, who spoke on behalf of the Human Rights Committee, although not for the same reasons. She heavily criticized the language of the bill which she said was complex and cumbersome and did not clearly set out the rights of the people in an accessible way. She said the HRC had made it very clear they had wanted to see a bill of rights written in such a way that even children could understand it.

“The HRC remains firmly of the view that the bill of rights should be set out in clear simple and positive language that must be understandable,” she said, adding that everyone should be able to have access and that the first step to improving the bill would be if people’s rights were listed first and then limitations set out afterward. 

Using the non-discrimination section as an example, she said the reader would have to cross reference four difference sections and that was not conducive to public understanding. She also noted that at the moment the section establishing the right to a fair trial was set out over three pages and that this needed to be written in far more succinct language. She also raised concerns over vague terminology and undefined concepts such as the use of the words like ‘values’ and ‘morals’ which she pointed out would be difficult for the courts to interpret.

Acknowledging the inclusion of educational and environmental rights, she said the HRC was also looking for the inclusion of more apparitional rights such as health care for all and housing rights. However, if the bill was re-written in much more simple language the HRC could accept the content, she said.

The Chamber criticized the language of the whole constitution, not just the bill of rights. President Eddie Thompson said that, while the document seemed to be moving in the right direction, the working draft was more like a cut and paste exercise.

“The second draft makes no attempt to simplify the language of the original constitution,” he said adding it looked like the language in other constitutions in overseas territories and crown dependencies, intended to be read by lawyers. He called on the FCO to use the UK expertise as established by the Crystal Mark, an organization which supports plain English in government documents.

“The constitution is the highest law of the land in the Cayman Islands. Let us make the document easier to read and to interpret so that everyone, no matter of your age or learning ability, can understand how our government works,” Thompson added. He also criticized the fact that the Chamber was not given the opportunity to circulate the working draft document among its members before the second round began to gather their opinions.

Hendr,y who opened the session, said there was a lot of work to do with some tricky outstanding issues and while he was aware that the leader of the opposition had requested the talks to be in the open, he said that the Overseas Territories Minister Gillian Merren agreed with his own position that the talks would be more likely to succeed if the forbearance and compromise required was done so behind closed doors outside the glare of publicity. He said that he hoped substantial agreement would be reached by Thursday afternoon and he said the next open session would be on Friday morning.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    None of the 3 special interest groups should be negotiating our country’s constitution:

    * the Chamber of Commerce is only concerned with business interests.

    * the CMA and the SDA are the religious right-wing, with no qualification to be there.

    * the HRC have no madate from the Caymanian people to speak on their behalf.

    Pastor Al and the CMA should be ashamed of their small-minded bigotry. And in order to get votes from the church groups, the PPM has blatantly given them a seat to infest the constitution with their personal views – unbelievable!

    While the HRC have made some recent calls for childrens legislation, they are far to focused on the homophobia issues to give any meaningful input.

    Chamber of Commerce do not have anything to add either (except voting and/or financial support of big business) because a constitution is not really concerned with matters affecting that industry.

    Why weren’t other special interest groups given a place at the negotiating table? Childrens rights, Environmental rights to name a few: because the majority of the voting populaton is with church and the chamber of commerce and the PPM certainly know where their bread is buttered.

    A disgraceful and embarrassing spectacle.




  2. Anonymous says:

    Have we not heard of separation of church and state?

    Why are church representatives so involved in the government business of Cayman? This is quite odd; is it not?

    Pastor Al Ebanks is obviously quite concerned with the draft due to his homophobia, which he believes is somehow "Godly" I suppose ……as if he or anyone else truly knows this thing called God.

    What a mess; good luck with the development of a Bill of Rights that forces people, like Pastor Al Ebanks, to understand that they are not, in any instance, better than any other human being. Having a nation of individuals whom are free from discrimination, regardless of gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation,  colour, creed, national ancestry, physical/mental impaired, among other facets of life, will be a wonderful historical step for your islands. I trust that the country as a whole will seek to ensure that the constitution becomes an effective document that "lives and breathes", rather than a document for folks like Pastor Al Ebanks and other church reps to push their beliefs onto everyone (in a legal capacity, mind you)  as if those beliefs are the subscription of all persons.  

    I’ll keep watching, listening, and reading, as this story unfolds.

    • Anonymous says:

      Exposed as we are to the U.S. media it is understandable why some people would assume that U.S. concepts such as "separation of church and state" apply everywhere. Clearly, it does not apply in the UK where the Head of State (H.M.) is also the Head of the Church of England, Defender of the Faith etc., and the House of Lords as the second legislative chamber is partly comprised of the Bishops of the Church of England. Similarly, our new constitution will and should be explicitly be based on our Christian heritage.  

      On the other hand, in the U.S. which was founded so that persons could practice their religion free from persecution by the State the concept has now used to persecute religious expression, particularly if it is Christian. School prayer is removed. It has led to increased moral decadence and societal breakdown.    

      Opposing homosexual ‘marriage’ does not make one homophobic. To declare that an activity is wrong is not to fear or hate persons carrying on that activity. One must hate the sin and love the sinner. Why is it that church people should be denied their freedom of speech? The biblical model is that the prophet warns and admonishes the king. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people. Woe unto the prophet that fails to speak;  woe unto those who persecute the prophet for speaking; and woe unto to those who call evil, good and good, evil.           




  3. Twyla M Vargas says:


    I see a dark cloud hovering between church and politics.  I do not believe the two should be mixed, neither shoud Ministers of religion become involved in political debates.  Whether they want to be truthful and admit it or not they are sining mentally and sometimes verbally.

    I have listened intently to many ministers in the way they conduct themselves after becomming involved in politics and it has caused many to separate from the church.  Some of them even slip up in their Sunday messages, and throw in political slangs.  So What can sinners believe?

    If a pastor and his church Truly believes in GOD, he does not  have to go to mankind for decisions and answers.   What happened to prayer and faith anf fasting?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   HELLO, it still works.   We the church have become too worldly, we have strayed away from the true meaning of faith and beliving in GOD and have been putting too much trust  in mankind.

    I say let the UDP and PPM fight their battles, they are politicians, and it is their job to do what they are doing, to protect state, win loose or draw.  But I see no place for pastorsof the Churches.  To me it is unGodly and too  much of the world .   The humbleness of a pastor is desroyed when he becomes involved in politics, respect goes out of the door and he becomes like everone else, just a man.  It does not matter how much preaching take place on on Saturday and Sunday mornings its not the same after being involved in political uphevals all week.  It just cannot work.   Its not the same.  Pastors or any religious persons who do not agree with what I am saying please let  me know if I am wrong, because it is not too late to learn more.

    In truth and fact too much politics has entered   the churches, and WE really  have the nerve to sit and wonder why sinners will not come to repentance!!!!!!!!!! What should they believe?  They are afraid as to what direction they can go.  Please tell me if I am wrong, because I am open and need to know.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Behind closed door again?????????????????   This document affects us all, including our future generations.

    Nobody trusts politicians anymore, and it is wrong for a select few to go make such deals for the majority of us, that will affect so many for so long. 

    WE ARE TIRED OF THIS CLOSED DOOR POLICY. Over the years this closed door policy have let us be the ones who suffer from these deals while those who make them live high on the hog, or get to beat their chest about what a great job they’ve done, yet we’re left paying for it.

    Its time the closed doors stopped, WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW.

    • Anonymous says:


      i understand when you says too much politics is coming in our churches..and i do believe that pastors of which ever denomination should never being involved  in any political meeting at all, on the other hand when it comes to a draft that will affect a island with christians and non christians , it is fair to know that pastors and represenatives from various churches can be presented in putting their input of what their church members would like to see in a constitution that will impact in each of our lives, now or in the forseeable future..Its has it bad and good , but as pastors we expect them to behave and act in a godly way ad how god would want them to be, and whatever they do will be put before any team as men and women who know god..