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Hon D Kurt Tibbetts, JP, MLA
Leader of the Opposition - First Elected Member for George Town

Press Briefing Statement

Hon. D. Kurt Tibbetts, JP

Thursday, November 27, 2008

As you are aware, the second round of negotiations with the UK on a new Cayman Islands Constitution was scheduled to take place here next week. After the first round in late September-early October, with which we were generally satisfied, Government was eagerly looking forward to this crucial second round and achieving more substantial headway.

Regrettably, certain unforeseen circumstances at the last minute have forced a postponement of next week's talks. This postponement is the result of the position taken by the acting Leader of the Opposition in a news broadcast on Radio Cayman last Tuesday evening and in statements made by Mrs. Julianna O'Connor-Connolly on the Rooster talk show yesterday which have left little doubt that the Opposition's participation in the talks would be very much in doubt. Unfortunately, instead of raising its concerns directly with the Government, the Opposition chose to make a public statement. The Opposition knew well in advance of the timing of the negotiations and could have had the courtesy of contacting the Government directly.

The Opposition's main concern relates to the availability of the first MLA for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, Mrs. Juliana O'Connor-Connolly. It is contending that her priority right now should be supporting the hurricane relief effort on Cayman Brac which I can tell you, as the Minister responsible for the sister islands, is proceeding at a satisfactory pace. Government recognizes that Mrs O'Connor's absence would put the Opposition at a disadvantage, considering the likelihood that the Opposition Leader also may not attend because he is still recuperating from major surgery. I wish to take this opportunity to extend best wishes to Mr. Bush for a speedy recovery. With the clear likelihood of the Opposition not turning up next week and in the absence of direct communication from them, I have spoken to the Head of the UK delegation, Mr. Ian Hendry, and told him that we have concluded that it would not be appropriate to proceed with the talks in the present circumstances. He agreed. I have communicated this to all the stakeholder groups who are involved and have today written to the Acting Leader of the Opposition in these terms.

Government deeply regrets this postponement brought about by the position taken by the Opposition. However, we wish to have the full participation of the Opposition in these negotiations. We have repeatedly made it clear that the new Constitution is not just about the Government. It is about the people of the Cayman Islands and, therefore, must reflect a national consensus. Despite fundamental disagreements with Government on the issue of a new constitution, we believe the Opposition must be allowed to fully make its case.

The importance of a new, relevant constitution can not be overstated, particularly given recent events involving the Judiciary and the Police and we believe this process must be pressed ahead to a satisfactory conclusion. The country deserves no less. Unfortunately, the situation now is that we are really running against the clock. Government is gravely concerned that this postponement has implications for our ability to complete the process on time, given the reality that the Legislative Assembly will be dissolved in March of next year. Despite this, however, we shall do all we can to get the process back on track as soon as possible and as soon as the Opposition returns to full strength and the diaries of all parties, particularly the UK delegation, permits.