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Local News 23 Mar, 2023 Follow News

Hon. Premier Wayne Panton

By Staff Writer

The abrupt departure of the second most powerful person in the PACT(People-driven, Accountable, Competent and Transparent) coalition government has raised more questions than the rather unconvincing attempts so far to provide answers.

Did he jump before he was pushed?

Chris Saunders, the now former Finance, Economic Management and Labour minister set off a political earth tremor with his resignation statement on Monday.

“While I am sure that many of you would love to know what those differences are, in the best interest of our beloved Cayman Islands it is best that those differences remain between the Premier and me. The political stability and the international reputation of the Cayman Islands are more important than those differences.”

As expected that only set off a firestorm of speculation despite what might have been Mr Saunders’ attempt to calm the waters.

It was obvious that the pact between him and the leader of the PACT pack, Premier Wayne Panton, had been irreparably broken - although we are told ‘never say never’ politics.

Shortly thereafter, a press statement was issued by the Office of the Premier in which it suggested that the Cabinet reshuffle announced after Mr Saunders’ departure had been under consideration for some time before.

“Over the past weeks, the Premier has been carefully evaluating the PACT Government’s performance over the first two years. During that time, the country emerged from COVID-19 restrictions, its borders were fully and safely reopened and the economy has not only recovered, it has equalled or surpassed pre-pandemic levels of activity.”

From previous public statements, it would appear that Mr Saunders has been largely responsible for guiding the government’s finances, and by extension confidence in the economy, through the challenging post-pandemic period since PACT took office.

But the Premier’s statement detailing the Cabinet changes - whether planned before or necessitated by Mr Saunders’s departure - also spoke of “several changes to the Ministers of Cabinet in order to create better synergies and improve delivery of results in the PACT Government’s stated priority areas.”

Better synergies? Improve delivery?

So what went wrong when everything seemed to have been going so right?

The media appearance later in the day with Premier Panton flanked by the remaining members of the PACT Cabinet raises even more questions. But no questions were taken - or allowed. There was a rather unusual request earlier to submit questions in advance, and it is known that some questions were indeed submitted.

The appearance was billed in part as “Address to the Nation”, “Press Briefing”, and “Premier Wayne Panton discusses the changes announced today to the Ministers of Cabinet”.

However, it turned out to be a repeat of the contents of the press release issued earlier in the day by the Office of the Premier. And it was brief. Approximately 6 minutes.

And he started out by addressing the Cabinet changes “in order to create better synergies and improve delivery...” before vaguely referring to the exit of Mr Saunders.

“Under the new ministerial arrangements, Mr Christopher Saunders will no longer be serving in the Cabinet and we certainly thank him for his contribution to Government.”

In the Cabinet reshuffle, Mr Panton himself will take on his former second-in-command’s heavyweight portfolios of Finance, Economic Development, supported by Hon. Dwayne Seymour as Cabinet Minister for the Ministry of Border Control and Labour.

Irrespective of the reasons for the broken pact between Premier Panton and now-independent Bodden Town West MP Chris Saunders, the attention and the pressure that comes with the role will now be on the Premier.

In the two years left until the next election, Mr Panton can expect to be placed under severe scrutiny as he attempts to replicate or maintain the standard of government budget management and national economic stewardship that he has praised Mr Saunders for achieving.

Will Mr Saunders, now sitting as an independent, become a thorn in the government’s side over what he might perceive to be the protection of his track record and legacy?

The joint appearance of all Cabinet members and backbenchers at the “Address to the Nation/Press Briefing” (but no press questions) could be seen as a show of unity.

It sends a message, most probably intended that ‘PACT is intact’.

But instead of stopping the questions it has unleashed a torrent of queries and speculation.

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