"New Constitution is good for the Cayman Islands"
Opening Remarks by the Leader of Government Business Hon. D. Kurt Tibbetts, J.P., M.L.A.
Cabinet Press Briefing, Monday, February 16, 2009
This morning, I am pleased to welcome the Honourable Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of civil society organizations who participated with Government in the recent negotiations with the United Kingdom Government for a new Cayman Islands Constitution. After three separate rounds of meetings, those negotiations were successfully concluded in London just over a week ago.
As a result, we now have a final official draft of the new Constitution that will be put to Caymanians for approval in a referendum planned for May 20th. The new Constitution reflects a consensus reached among Government, the Opposition, and civil society organizations which sat at the negotiating table as members of the Cayman Islands delegation.
The agreement of the U.K. Government was also crucial to the successful outcome of these talks. Therefore, all that remains now for the Constitutional Modernization initiative to be a total success, is the people's stamp of approval.
Joining us this morning to share their perspectives on the negotiations, the final draft of the new Constitution, and also to take your questions, are:
- Honourable McKeeva Bush, representing the United Democratic Party;
- Mr. Eddie Thompson, representing the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce;
- Pastor Alden Ebanks, representing the Cayman Ministers Association;
- Pastor Shian O'Connor representing the Conference of Seventh Day Adventists, and
- Ms. Sara Collins, representing the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee.
- Joining me, on behalf of the elected PPM Government, is Honourable Alden McLaughlin, Minister of Education.
I wish to thank everyone again for participating in the process, for cooperating and being willing to compromise where necessary, and for putting country before self-interest. Government always wanted the end-product to be a People's Constitution. We think this has been achieved. History will be proud of what we have accomplished.
Last Wednesday morning, I had the honour to deliver in the Legislative Assembly a comprehensive statement on the successful outcome of the negotiations. That statement explained the political agreement which underpins the new Constitution; it also highlighted some key provisions and demonstrated how the new Constitution represents a vast improvement over the existing 1972 Constitution.
Except for reiterating a few points I made on Wednesday, it is not my intention to go into such lengthy details this morning. Suffice it to say, this new Constitution is good for the Cayman Islands. It gives the people what they have been asking for. It safeguards our heritage, upholds our cherished values, protects fundamental human rights, gives Caymanians a greater say in ordering our domestic affairs; and retains and strengthens our constitutional ties with the United Kingdom. It improves our system of governance and better equips us to deal with the challenges of the early 21st Century.
The new Constitution represents the best deal that could be reached at this time. Nobody got everything they wanted, including the Government. What we have is a new Constitution that satisfies the United Kingdom and also reflects a broad-based national consensus; a political agreement reached among the participants following a process of give and take which is characteristic of all negotiations.
The most controversial aspect of this entire constitutional modernization exercise has been the content of the Bill of Rights. The UK has mandated that a Bill of Rights must form part of any new constitution for its Overseas Territories. The struggle has always been to draft a Bill of Rights which would satisfy the UK that it met all its international obligations under the various conventions and treaties to which it is a signatory, while at the same time respecting Caymanian sensitivities, moral standards and values. It has taken eight years, but we have done so. We have a draft bill of rights which has been approved by the UK as well as all the stakeholders in this process among them, notably, representatives from virtually all churches in the Cayman Islands. That has been no mean feat. It has taken tremendous perseverance, forbearance, creativity, intellect and a willingness to compromise on the part of all concerned.
We are therefore disappointed that despite the involvement of the Human Rights Committee in every step of the process, including their attendance and contribution at all three rounds of the Constitutional Talks with the United Kingdom, they are determined to campaign against the draft Bill of Rights on the basis that it does not go far enough.
Successful negotiations are characterized by spirit of compromise. That has been especially true of these recently concluded constitutional talks. All parties made concessions in order to reach agreement on a document that everyone could support. The Government has not achieved everything it pushed for, neither has the Opposition, the Chamber of Commerce, the Cayman Ministers Association, the Conference of Seventh day Adventists or, indeed, the Human Rights Committee. I believe it is fair to say that in some instances even the UK gave more than it would have preferred. But that is the way negotiations work.
Cayman presently has no constitutional provision for human rights. Whatever its perceived shortcomings by the HRC, the present draft bill significantly advances human rights protection in this jurisdiction and, importantly, it has the support of the key stakeholders in the process and the United Kingdom Government. We believe it also has the support of the Caymanian electorate.
It cannot be denied that human rights have significantly advanced under the new Constitution. However, going further would have required the concurrence of the other stakeholders and this presented a major challenge at this time. It would have been unwise, in the circumstances, to impose the will of a minority on a majority. It would have put the overall agreement on the new Constitution in jeopardy. It is important to appreciate this key point. The government is not the final arbiter of this process. We have committed to a referendum on the constitution and that means that unless the final document has the support of the majority of the electorate, it will not be approved. In that unhappy event we will have no new constitution and no bill of rights at all. We are satisfied that the position of the HRC is not supported by the vast majority of the Caymanian electorate and therefore we cannot accede to it.
Now that we have broad agreement on a new Constitution, Government's immediate priority is ensuring that the document is widely circulated and that a supporting public awareness and education campaign is put into motion. We wish Caymanians to fully grasp the benefits of the new Constitution so that they can make an informed decision when they vote in the upcoming referendum. The question we must all ask is whether the draft constitution will improve the key areas of the administration of government and the protection of human rights for the Cayman Islands. The answer to that question I say, is an equivocal "Yes".
I wish to urge our stakeholders here this morning to ask their various constituencies to endorse the new Constitution as we have done. It is the only right thing to do now. After a process which has lasted eight years, after fully debating the issues for the past year, we have reached a settlement which, we agree, is in the best interest of the country. Together, let us now ask Caymanians to give their stamp of approval and usher in a new era for our beloved country.