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Constitution Talks: Round Two

His Excellency, the Governor Mr Stuart Jack, CVO (foreground) with other participants in the second round of constitutional discussions at the Westin Casuarina Resort yesterday.  From (R-L) are: Chamber of Commerce President Eddie Thompson; Cayman Islands Conference of Seventh Day Adventist Representative Pastor Shian O’Connor; Representative of  the Cayman Islands  Minsters Association Pastor Al Ebanks and HRC Representatives, Melanie McLaughlin and Sarah Collins.

Prepared by Government Information Services

Efforts to craft a new constitution to govern Cayman’s relationship with the United Kingdom and a Bill of Rights to entrench citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms, recommenced Monday (13 January 2009).

The second round of constitutional negotiations which began at the Westin Casuarina Resort included a UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) delegation, Cayman’s leaders of government and opposition; Chamber of Commerce representatives and non–government organizations such as the Human Rights Committee; the Cayman Islands Ministers Association, and the Cayman Islands Conference of Seventh Day Adventists.

FCO Representative Ian Hendry assured participants that the UK’s commitment to a modern, effective relationship with Cayman would ensure a bright future: "Our delegation approaches these talks in a spirit of goodwill and co–operation…I hope we can concentrate on seeking the best constitutional arrangements available for the Cayman Islands with which both sides can live," he said.

Leader of Government Business the Hon. Kurt Tibbetts, MLA, JP noted that satisfactory progress had been made on most issues during the first round, particularly on the Bill of Rights. That, he said, provided a solid foundation on which to build further consensus.

Government Ministers weigh in on the constitution during the second round of talks. From left are: Minister of Education, Training, Employment, Youth and Sports, the Hon. Alden McLaughlin; Minister of Communications, Work and Infrastructure, the Hon. Arden McLean and Leader of Government Business the Hon. Kurt Tibbetts, JP and Minister of Tourism, Environment, Investment and Commerce, the Hon. Charles Clifford, JP.

Observing that government accepted that every negotiation is characterized "by a measure of give and take," Mr Tibbetts said that his fellow ministers are pleased that some of their comments have been taken on board by the UK.

He cited specifically the UK’s agreement on the importance of having a National Security Council to manage senior level security forces appointments, and the establishment of a Judicial and Legal Services Commission to oversee the appointments of judges and others into key legal positions.

Mr Tibbetts also expressed pleasure that the UK had accepted government’s recommendation to consider Cayman’s interests when negotiating international treaties.

He emphasised that government’s goal was to achieve an agreement that recognizes the Islands’ particular culture, traditions and values; that promotes openness, transparency and accountability, and ensures accessibility to all the people of Cayman.

"These negotiations provide us with a historic opportunity to modernize our centuries–old constitutional relationship with the UK so that it works better for the UK and us [Cayman] in the future. The world has undergone significant change since 1972 when our present constitution took effect…today we are more mature and more confident as a people and would like to have a greater say in running our affairs in a continuing partnership with the UK," Mr Tibbetts noted.

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said that the country must continue to debate the draft constitution: "There are parts which we would support and have pushed since 2002–2003, such as our involvement in treaties and other such matters," Mr Bush stated. He added that there are other aspects to the working documents which the opposition will fight against and that the opposition would continue to take discussions on constitutional issues to the people.

Chamber of Commerce Representative Eddie Thompson said that the working document was "moving in the right direction" and was in keeping with the findings of the chamber’s own members’ survey.

"The working draft includes several provisions that the chamber membership supports," he said, citing among others, the need to maintain ties with the UK; avoid any move towards independence; modernize the role of the governor, and introduce checks and balances.

However, Mr Thompson also mentioned several issues which from a chamber standpoint remain unresolved. These included confirming the provisions of the proposed Bill of Rights; human rights and constitutional modernization, and confirming the functions of the governor.

Urging compromise and negotiation, he further challenged elected representatives to "set aside political differences and develop a new constitution that protects our unique way of life, provides for a more open, transparent and accountable government, and contributes to the fair and equitable exercise of power and delivery of public services.

Representatives of Cayman’s religious community were concerned mainly with protecting the religious values of the Islands’ people, while the HRC representative urged a rewording of sections of the working document to reflect more simple and positive language.