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Opposition Participate in Talks

Hon W McKeeva Bush, OBE, JP, MLA

Leader of the Opposition

Opening Statement

Constitutional Negotiations

29 September 2008

H.E. the Governor, Honourable Speaker, Mr. Tibbetts and other Cabinet Ministers, Mr. Hendry and other FCO officials, fellow members of the legislature and other distinguished delegates, other distinguished guests and members of the media.

Mr. Hendry, I want to welcome you and the team to the Islands again.

The United Democratic Party (UDP) welcomes this opportunity to participate in this monumental meeting, to allow us to represent the wishes of the Caymanian people to the UK delegation. We are grateful that these meetings are being held in the Cayman Islands in accordance with the recommendations of Foreign Affairs Committee July 2008 report on Overseas Territories, but are disappointed that the full benefits of having these meeting here are not being realized by having them closed to the public.

The desire of this recommendation was to ensure that the local population did not feel distant from the process. Failing to allow the people an opportunity to listen-in has negated the benefit of these talks being in Cayman. They might have as well been in the UK.

A fundamental premise to the Constitutional Modernization Initiative of the UDP is to ensure that the pace of modernization does not go outside the wishes of the people. Public airing of these negotiations would have allowed for the continued development of our people on key Constitutional matters. A further recommendation of the UDP to this end is for the Secretariat to be restructured as an objective and dynamic body that continues its educational role, even after the current process has concluded.

In our capacity as the current official Opposition Party, as the previous administration, who led the last series of negotiations, we welcomed the resumption of the Modernization Exercise and have fully embraced this opportunity. We have expressed various concerns over the legitimacy of the process from its onset, and are of the firm view that the process has not done full justice in bringing about Constitutional consensus. Our concerns are centered on the lack of objectivity and balance in the process.

The ruling People's Progressive Movement (PPM) administration Constitutional machinery was coordinated by a Government appointed Constitutional Secretariat, who reported directly to the Leader of Government Business, the Hon Kurt Tibbetts. This is in contrast to the previous appointment of Constitutional Commissioners by H.E. the Governor with the advice of the Government, and a word to the Opposition.

In my opinion the Secretariat, in-large, is merely an instrument to advance the Government's position.

Secondly, the Opposition was afforded no assistance in the form of developing or promoting our proposals. From the formal commencement of the Initiative on January 12, 2008 the Opposition was merely invited to the launch function, of the Government's proposals, which were made prior to any and all consultation with the general public. No input from the Opposition was sought at that time.

Thirdly, the Government has used their inherent advantage of the control of the Government purse to propagate their positions, including contracting with a local newspaper publisher to provide a Public Relation appeal. No similar benefit was afforded to the Opposition.

We wrote to the Government when they stopped the referendum to say the way forward as we saw it. The Government did invite the UDP to meet with them to attempt to build a consensus. We proposed a meeting on September 22nd, 2008 at the Legislative Assembly and open to the public.

The Government refused to attend on that day. Instead the Government arranged a meeting on September 25th, 2008 in which the Opposition participated, albeit disadvantaged by not having an agenda, or notice of format in advance of the meeting. The Opposition was not invited to make any opening remarks at this meeting. I am glad you have provided that opportunity today.

Notwithstanding these disadvantages, the Opposition is determined to proceed with these negotiations, in a spirit of full cooperativeness and committed to carving out a modern day partnership with the UK, that fits within Britain's new international role as a participant in the new global order, and the new global economy, and that of the Cayman Islands' aspirations and desires. I do not need to tell you my desire to protect these Islands - the F.C.O. and the Treasury know full well my determination on that fixation.

In an attempt to contextualize these discussions we must reflect on the impetus for the Modernization Initiative. Shortly following a change of Government in the UK in May 2007, and informed by several exercises, including the National Audit Office report on Contingent Liabilities of the Dependent Territories on May 30, 1997 and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee enquiry into the Overseas Territories in the same year, the White paper entitled Progress for Partnership and Prosperity was introduced calling for a Modernization Exercise in all Overseas Territories.

A major tenet of the White Paper was placing the responsibility and choice of Constitutional format and structure in the hands of the people. To this end we maintain that the PPM administration has failed in bringing about national consensus on some of the more salient aspects of their proposals. Putting the exact merits and demerits of these proposals aside, the Caymanian people have not been convinced that these proposals will enhance our current well being or our future sustainability. This is largely due to the flawed modernization process that has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

A second major tenet of the White Paper is the right to greater autonomy and more say in the direction of the country by its people. In principle this concept is welcomed, but must always be conditioned by the readiness and political maturity of the elected leaders to manage such new responsibilities. To prematurely devolve certain powers that have traditionally been held by the UK to elected representatives is inconsistent with the constraint placed on this provision in the White Paper.

The UDP is cognizant, more than most, that our political system is not as mature as other territories and considers the timely and systematic approach of devolving power to elected representatives as opposed to the sweeping approach embedded in the Government proposals. Members of our Party played an instrumental role in the appointment of a local Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the creation of the Ministerial system, under our administration Prisons was placed under an elected member. These advancements were slow and were done with the consensus of the people.

In the current climate of unprecedented global upheaval and geopolitical transformations, the Caymanian people have adopted a conservative approach of waiting to see "how the dust settles" before making any further advancements of our Constitution. Never before in our history has stability been so important.

The UDP has devoted its own resources, limited as they might be, to ensuring that the people have access to a process that will allow for their views to be developed. We have held meetings in every district throughout this country and have met with many private groups. We are confident that we have a firm grasp of the wishes of the people.

The UDP commenced these negotiations recognizing the increased pressures faced by the UK that may influence these negotiations. These include the growing significance of offshore financial services in the global community and the role played by the Cayman Islands; increased integration and homogenizing of European laws, policies and human rights obligations; the UK need to adhere to their commitment for what has been deemed as the inalienable right for self-determination of Overseas Territories and; the evolving role of the UK in the new world order.

These recognitions must be balanced by the Cayman Islands economic model being heavily reliant on the stability of our current Constitutional relationship with the UK; the desire of the Caymanian people to maintain its culture, Christian heritage and moral standings.

The UDP looks forward to the forthcoming days of productive and constructive discussions for the mutual benefits of the Cayman Islands and the UK. People are concerned about their way of life - about electrical bills, about jobs, about being able to put shoes on their children, about paying their loans and mortgages - not so much about Constitutions.

This is not about the PPM or the UDP but for all the people of these islands. I trust the Lord, for in His Word it is said, "For I know the plans I have for you". I trust Him.