By Christopher Tobutt
Friday December 4th was an historic and auspicious occasion marking a milestone in Cayman’s constitutional advancement.
On that date, the jurisdiction heralded the inauguration of its Parliament, replacing the previous Legislative Assembly.
Hon Premier Alden McLaughlin noted the significance by reminding the nation that it went beyond the change of designation.
“We are gathered here to change the name of a building. But we are doing so much more than that,” he said. “This building has always stood as a symbol of our national identity and our potential as a free, self-governing people.
“As well as the establishment of our own Parliament for the first time, these Constitutional amendments include changes that are important both symbolically and in terms of the substantive enhancement of Caymanian self-government that they bring.”
PREMIER’S CAUTIONARY NOTE TO UK
In that context, Premier McLaughlin particularly had a message for the British government when he stated:
“If the UK wishes to avoid driving the Territories to choose independence, particularly before they are ready, then it must allow the OT’s greater autonomy over our destinies.”
This, he said, includes the ability for the Territories "to make our own mistakes and to learn from them."
“The UK must not feel that it is bound to intervene every time it believes that a Territory has made or is making a mistake, Premier McLaughlin stated.
He pointed to one aspect of the Constitution which the UK government had refused to change, especially on the recent controversy which resulted in the Governor unilaterally enacting a Civil Partnerships law.
“I still believe the retention of Section 81, allowing the Governor to legislate directly in areas of the Governor’s special responsibilities, is one such provision that needs to be abolished…I truly hope that a future Cayman Government can persuade the UK that, despite its misgivings, this section must go,” the Premier insisted.
GOVERNOR: CAYMAN AS ROLE MODEL
In his Throne Speech, His Excellency the Governor, Martyn Roper congratulated the Cayman Islands on the constitutional reforms, paid tribute to the Government for its handling of the pandemic, and spoke with optimism about the future.
He also addressed the thorny issue of Section 81 of the Constitution stating that he had only used the powers as an exceptional measure to bring the Cayman Islands in line with ‘the rule of law,’ within the context of UK’s obligations as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.
“As UK Ministers said at the recent Joint Ministerial Council virtual meeting, the constitutional talks with Cayman were a role model for how such talks should be conducted and one other Territories could follow.,” Governor Roper remarked.
He said, “The Cayman delegation demonstrated cross-party agreement and unity at those talks, which had a powerful impact on the UK and the success of the negotiations.”
SPEAKER’S WARNING BELL
For Hon. Speaker of the Parliament of the Cayman Islands, McKeeva Bush, it served as a moment to issue a timely warning.
“At this first meeting of our Parliament I would ring this warning bell,” he declared.
Referring to comments made on mainstream and social media, the Speaker of the Parliament chided “those leading the charge against everything".
"They are prepared to act irresponsibly to get their way. And it has been said if they can’t have their way and be the captain, they will go in the engine room and wreck the engine.”
“As I listen, I don’t hear a solution, and my warning bell is this,” Speaker Bush admonished:
“If we Caymanians listen to what I’m hearing and if that is the kind of Cayman of the future where the church is being torn apart at times and where government is derided at all levels - not just the politicians but the civil servants as well - if that’s the kind of future then only God could save us.”
“There are no solutions,” he posited, going on to say: “Those listening must ask the question ‘have those people done anything to ever help anyone?’”
OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR ‘RESET’
Hon. Leader of the Official Opposition, Arden McLean, opted not to, as he put in, “go into the minutiae of these changes” - a reference to the transition from Legislative Assembly to Parliament.
Basing his presentation on the theme “What is the collective purpose of all of us who call the Cayman Islands home?” he set out to “put a few things into perspective”.
Looking at the history and development of Cayman, he concluded that “today we are the envy of many” noting the passing of the torch by Caymanians through the generations.
Reviewing the jurisdiction’s economic and constitutional advancement, he pointed out that while the GDP per capita of Cayman puts it among the top five in the world, the average Caymanian was not seeing the benefits of that especially considering the high cost of living.
“The economy is doing well but it does not translate to the standard of living of the average Caymanian he observed where the jurisdiction while ranking in the top five of GDP per capita, it is placed at about 30 on the global Human Development Index.
“In essence Mr Speaker, the economy is doing well but it has not translated into an equivalent standard of living for our people,” the Opposition Leader stated.
He also drew parallels with the constitutional advancement of Cayman noting that the Constitution is “a mere eleven years old yet today we are recognising the second amendment thereto.”
Against the backdrop of the oft-repeated comment; ‘who are we developing for?’, Mr McClean acknowledged the role of both Caymanians and the non-nationals in Cayman’s growth and urged that all, irrespective of background, should benefit from this, recalling the phrase ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’.
Looking at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic the Leader of the Official Opposition said it was an opportunity to “press the reset button” towards “a goal of One Cayman” being advocated by his faction in the new Parliament.
With the new Parliament taking control of its own administration from January as part of the package of constitutional amendments, the Leader of the Official Opposition also called for further changes including a series of proposals for electoral reform.
POMP, CEREMONY, AND HISTORY
As part of the formal ceremony, the four Ministerial Councillors - Hon. Barbara Conolly - also Deputy Speaker; Capt. Eugene Ebanks, Mr. Austin Harris and Mr. David Wight – received Instruments of Appointment as Parliamentary Secretaries from the Governor.
All 19 Cayman Islands’ new MPs and the two ex-officio MPs received from the Speaker of the Parliament, Hon. McKeeva Bush, symbolic keys to the Parliament crafted in Caymanite by local artist Mr. Horacio Esteban.
They also received from the Premier celebratory personal copies of a document outlining their changed status to Members of Parliament from MLAs, along with a copy of a specially commissioned painting of the Parliament building by local artist Mr. Gordon Solomon.
The opening of the House of Parliament on Friday, 4th December makes the Cayman Islands’ unicameral legislature only the third United Kingdom Overseas Territory (OT), and the first among Caribbean OTs, to be designated as a Parliament, behind Bermuda and Gibraltar.
It brought the curtains down on the Legislative Assembly established on 4th July 1959 when the Cayman Islands got its first written Constitution.
The move ushered in 61 years ago, installed the Islands’ House of Legislature, replacing the bicameral Assembly of Justices and Vestry which had been in place for 128 years since 31st December 1831.
On 11 November 2020, the UK Privy Council formalised the move from LA to Parliament as one of several constitutional reform changes following discussions with the Cayman Islands.
To mark the occasion, the Cayman Islands received many congratulatory messages notably from the Prince of Wales, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and former UK Overseas Territories Minister Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon who was involved in the talks, as well as a number of heads of regional governments.
The formal ceremony was followed by a reception with live entertainment by Synergy and an opportunity to learn about Cayman Islands’ constitutional history at an exhibit at Constitution Hall.
The event was choreographed by Celebrate Cayman, the Offices of the Premier and the Speaker's Office.
It was flawlessly emceed by Cabinet Secretary Mr Samuel Rose.