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Cayman Delegation for UK

Prepared by Government Information Services

A Cayman Islands delegation will be in the United Kingdom the week of 2 February for final discussions with a team led by UK Minister for Overseas Territories Gillian Merron. The meeting is expected to yield a final draft constitution for the Islands.

That was the word from UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Representative (FCO) Ian Hendry as he wrapped up the second round of constitutional negotiations with local officials at the Westin Friday (16 January). The talks opened on Tuesday (13 January).

The constitution will determine Caymanís political relationship with the UK, and prescribe how government and its institutions will function to better serve the people. The related Bill of Rights will outline citizenís entitlements, freedoms and responsibilities under the constitution.

Most participants agreed that significant progress was made during the latest round which saw participation by the FCO delegation, and Cayman Islands Government, Opposition members and non-governmental organisations.

Agreement was reached on key issues, such as increasing Cabinet representatives from five to seven and the Legislative Assembly from 15 to 18; adding a Minister of Finance as a Cabinet-level position, with the Financial Secretary retained in an advisory role, and establishing a National Security Council (to handle policy matters surrounding national security issues and a Judicial and Legal Services Commission to appoint the Attorney General and other key legal and judicial positions.

Describing the talks as "a very productive session", Mr Hendry added that participants demonstrated a real commitment to address unresolved issues from last yearís first round.

While noting that significant progress and compromise had been achieved this time, he said that the Cayman delegation to London will be attempting to resolve ten outstanding matters.

These include the Bill of Rights as a whole, specifically whether to include language relating to self-determination in the Bill; whether Her Majesty will now appoint the Governor in consultation with the Premier (now LOGB), and whether language mandating the Governor to act in the best interest of the Cayman Islands should be explicitly written into the new constitution.

Other points for the UK meeting comprise defining the powers of the new National Security Council and whether the Opposition should play a role in that body; restricting the power of the governor to enact legislation; whether there should be term limits for the Premier; imposing an intervening period before a former civil servant can hold elected office, and discussion of a provision to allow Cayman to make later constitutional changes.

In his comments, Leader of Government Business the Hon. Kurt Tibbetts, JP said that while government must await the next draft and the outcome of the final round, "there is broad agreement on all the key features of the proposed constitution."

He said the government will take a number of issues to the UK, among them the need for Cayman to have a Bill of Rights which balances the UKís need to have overseas territories be compliant with its international obligations, but which also preserves the Islandsí distinct history, culture and Christian heritage.

Mr Tibbetts further identified other issues such as the need for greater accountability on the part of the Governor, to be in line with demands for accountability from elected officials, as well as measures to improve the clarity and accessibility of the constitution.

He lauded constitutional innovations such as a new Commission for Standards in Public Life, adding that it will ensure that all parts of government adopt the highest standards of probity and honesty. He also disclosed governmentís plans to meet with the opposition and NGO groups ahead of the UK trip.

Opposition leader Mr McKeeva Bush warned against a document that will put more power in the hands of politicians, but voiced his support for Opposition involvement in the National Security Council and for LA members to attend Cabinet meetings.

He drew attention to the Oppositionís position paper which expressed commitment to fully informing the public of the ramifications of the new constitution and its effect on their lives.

Other representatives in the talks included the Human Rights Committee; the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce; the Cayman Islands Ministers Association and the Cayman Islands Conference of Seventh Day Adventists.

Speaking on behalf of her HRC colleague Sarah Collins, HRC Representative Melanie McLaughlin said their organisation had successfully advocated clearer and more positive rights for children; rights to education; rights to environmental protection, and the establishment of a human rights commission.

However, she expressed disappointment at the lack of progress on including health care and housing as an aspirational right; non-discrimination rights and simplifying the language of the Bill of Rights.

Chamber President Eddie Thompson called the negotiations very progressive, adding that he was pleased that most of the Chamberís points were incorporated. He reiterated the call for simple language in the wording of the document so it could be understood even by children.

Cayman Islands Conference of Seven Day Adventist representative Shian OíConnor said the talks had served to narrow the gaps among the groups. He noted however, that his organisation stood by its principled position on defending the moral, cultural and spiritual values of the Islands.

CMA representative Pastor Al Ebanks expressed his appreciation for the manner in which the proceedings were conducted. He said that the CMA had particular interest in the Bill of Rights and looked forward to seeing the final draft.