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Constitution in Modern Times

Checks and balances - Part 4

As part of our series “A Constitution in Modern Times” that will run over the next few weeks, I will take a look at the principle of separation of powers and the importance of maintaining and improving mechanisms for checks and balances in a Westminster style government, which is what we have here in the Cayman Islands.

The independence of the judiciary, the independence of the civil service, the reserved powers of the Governor and the ability of the Legislative Assembly to exercise its vote of no confidence, facilitate that ever changing equilibrium that is needed in a democracy to ensure that no one branch becomes too powerful.

Therefore, whilst we already have the obvious traditional examples of checks and balances, what appear to be lacking are the aspects of checks and balances that promote accountability in government.

Over the last few weeks, we have seen a number of media headlines promoting accountability within our local system of government.

The passing of the Freedom of Information Bill was described by a local MLA Osbourne Bodden as a “paradigm shift for the government to understand that people have a right to information” (see Caymanian Compass, 3 September 2007).

This of course is true, because for the first time, the people of the Cayman Islands would be able to exercise their right to enquire into the affairs of government allowing them to actively participate in the way government is run.

Similarly, the call for anti–corruption legislation has been advocated by both political parties.

In fact, at present there is an Anti Corruption Bill out for public discussion that is available at the Legislative Assembly.

The importance of establishing standards for those who hold public office is extremely important.

It is imperative that our politicians, civil servants and judiciary serve our country adhering to the highest standards, and in the event they cross the line, there are means by which they may be held accountable.

At present, the Public Service Management Law governs the operation of the civil service and similarly the constitution allows for the disciplining and removal of rogue members of the judiciary.

With respect to the politicians, the rules are somewhat more fluid. Because over time, the rules of parliamentary democracies have developed through customs and conventions, one cannot simply pick up a handbook and read out the code of conduct required for parliamentarians and the penalties for breaching that code.

A move toward establishing expressed standards within the constitution and in subsidiary legislation is a bold and positive step, as it serves to enhance the relationship between the individual and the state.

The decision to modernize government through constitutional reform does not only mean rebalancing power, it also means reinvigorating government through accountability.

  • Suzanne Bothwell
  • Director

Last Updated: 2007-08-23