Constitution: Going to the People
 

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Constitution: Going to the People

Hon D Kurt Tibbetts, JP, MLA
Leader of the Opposition - First Elected Member for George Town

"We intend to consult widely and once that process is complete to then proceed to the negotiation stage for a new constitution with the UK."

—Hon. Kurt Tibbetts

Government will shortly begin consultation with the people of the Cayman Islands on constitutional modernisation, starting a process that includes negotiation with the UK, publication and public discussion on the agreed document, and a referendum.

This was formally announced by Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday (23 March). His statement followed last week talks that will set the stage for re-engaging the UK Government in negotiations for a new constitution.

"We intend to consult widely and once that process is complete to then proceed to the negotiation stage for a new constitution with the UK," Mr Tibbetts said in Thursday’s sitting of the Legislative Assembly, adding: "Then in due course a referendum will be held to determine whether it is acceptable to the people of the Cayman Islands."

A five-person delegation from the British Foreign Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office visited Cayman 20-21 March for informal constitutional talks. This was the first such visit by UK representatives on the matter since constitutional review talks were halted in 2004.

The Leader of Government Business said that he and other officials used the occasion of the visit to obtain an informed position before going to the people.

"In order that the consultation process is truly meaningful we took the opportunity provided by these talks to explore with the FCO what constitutional provisions (options) may be possible," Mr Tibbetts said.

Here is the full text of the LoGB's statement in the Legislative Assembly on 23 March:

Yesterday (22 March) a team from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office completed a very useful and informative three day round of discussions with the Government and other interested parties regarding the constitutional review process in the Cayman Islands. The team was led by Ian Hendry, former Deputy Chief Legal Advisor to the FCO and also included head of the Overseas Territories Department, Mr. Tony Crombie, Mr. Michael Bradley, Constitutional Advisor for the Overseas Territories, Ms. Susan Dickson, Legal Advisor to the FCO and Ms. Fiona Romney, Desk Officer at the FCO for the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands.

Regrettably, the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues, although meeting briefly with the FCO team on Tuesday afternoon, 21st March, declined to discuss the constitutional review process in any detail with them. Further, the Leader of the Opposition did not attend an earlier meeting that day with the FCO team, representatives of the Government and the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee held to discuss the proposed Human Rights Chapter. I should say in fairness, however, that one member of the Opposition did eventually turn up for that meeting, albeit more than one hour late. However, late yesterday afternoon, the Leader of the Opposition hosted a press conference during which he was critical of the government and suggested that the visit was a waste of time and money since the Government was not ready to negotiate with the FCO team.

In addition to the Press Release issued yesterday by the Governor's Office regarding the FCO team's visit, in light of the comments made in the media by the Leader of the Opposition, it is essential that the Government makes clear what has transpired and what is planned now that the constitutional modernisation process has been restarted.

In October of last year while attending the Overseas Territories Consultative Committee meeting in London, I indicated to Messrs. Hendry and Bradley that the Government wished to restart the constitutional review process which had been aborted by the UDP Government in February 2004. We agreed that the process should be re-started by initial exploratory discussions as much water had flowed under the bridge since the talks which had been held at Lancaster House in London in December 2002. There had been the infamous Eurobank trial, Hurricane Ivan and a change in government to name a few significant events. For our part we believe that the draft constitution published in February 2003 is a good starting point but that it must be considered again in light of all that has transpired since it was prepared.

I should remind the Leader of the Opposition that unlike the case when the UDP held the reins, this Government has a clear mandate for constitutional modernisation having set out our position in considerable detail on page 34 of our Manifesto and having been elected with an overwhelming majority.

We are entirely committed to the consultative process and ultimately to holding a referendum on the new Constitution. This has always been our position and this is set out clearly and unequivocally in the PPM manifesto, again on page 34. We intend to commence that consultative process shortly, now that the exploratory discussions with the FCO have been concluded. The Leader of the Opposition wonders why the FCO team were invited here as we were not yet ready to negotiate the terms of the constitution. Let me explain why. While these are perhaps alien concepts to the Leader of the Opposition, consultation and people participation are fundamental values of the PPM and this government. We intend to consult widely and to be able to discuss the proposed new constitution from an informed position. In order to ensure that the consultation process is truly meaningful we took the opportunity provided by these talks to explore with the FCO what constitutional provisions may be possible. We found the exercise very, very useful.

I hope I am wrong but I foresee that it will be very difficult for the Leader of the Opposition and his team to properly consult with their constituents since they did not use the opportunity also afforded them to seek to ascertain from the FCO what is possible and what is not. In that respect, I believe that they have done their constituents a grave disservice.

As I have said we intend to consult widely and once that process is complete to then proceed to the negotiation stage for a new constitution with the UK. Our negotiations will be based on the results of the consultative process. I do hope that the Opposition will not also opt out of that stage as they have done with these initial exploratory talks. The Opposition has a very important role to play in developing our new constitution and the people of this country are entitled to the benefit of their views and assistance. I do hope we can rely on the Leader of the Opposition and his team to begin to participate in this very important process.

Once the negotiation stage is successfully completed, we intend that the resulting draft constitution will be published and widely discussed. Then in due course a referendum will be held to determine whether it is acceptable to the people of the Cayman Islands. This we have committed to in our Manifesto and this we will do. The FCO team indicated that the UK Government is happy with this proposed process to obtain a modernised Constitution for the Islands.

Madam Speaker, as most people will recall, the PPM while in the Opposition fought many a pitched battle with the Leader of the Opposition and the UDP Government to ensure that the people of this country had an opportunity to shape our new constitution. Indeed the present Minister of Education and I were suspended from service in this honourable House as a result of our efforts to ensure that a referendum motion was brought to the floor of this House. You will recall Madam Speaker that you seconded that Motion. Additionally, the PPM participated in a March held by the People for Referendum which sought to delay the debate by this House on the Constitutional Commissioners' Report until a referendum had been held.

I remind this honourable House and the listening public of these events because I wish to make it clear that the PPM has a proud history of seeking consultation and insisting on a referendum before important constitutional change. That is still our position now that we are the Government and the country need not worry that a Constitution is going to be developed in secret and then rammed down its throat as had been threatened by the UDP Government.

Under this PPM Government, there will be widespread consultation and ultimately, the country will be given the opportunity to say Yea or Nay to the proposed constitution by way of referendum.

Madam Speaker, I trust that this statement will serve to dispel any fears that the unfortunate comments made by the Leader of the Opposition may have raised and that it will also serve to convince that Honourable gentleman of the error of his ways.