Published 28th January 2020, 9:14am
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, good morning.
I thank you all for joining us on this National Heroes Day to remember and celebrate those nine Caymanian Heroes whom we have recognised as having made an exceptional contribution to our development – political, social, cultural, and economic.
Each Heroes Day we also take time to recognise other Caymanians who, in their own way, also contributed to our development and are heroes to many.
Today is a very special Heroes Day. For starters, later in the programme we will unveil the sculptured busts of five of our National Heroes, with another three busts to be installed next Heroes Day. These physical images will help to make real the faces and lives of our founders and along with the statue of ‘Mr. Jim’ and the other monuments here allow today’s generation and the generations that follow the opportunity to visit, to see and to consider the contributions of our national heroes, in this hallowed square dedicated to their memory.
This year we are commemorating the 60th Anniversary of our first written Constitution. And so today we will also honour and celebrate those pioneers who six decades ago helped create that seminal document.
Our Constitution is a unique, living document upon which the foundation of our modern democracy, our laws, and indeed our modern way of life is built.
So, it is fitting that we remember and honour those nation builders who helped secure the rights to our own modern system of governance. With the passage of time we have lost most of those nation builders, but happily, Arley James (AJ) Miller, who served in the Assembly during that historic period is still with us.
Forgive me a moment of pride in noting that my Grandfather William Allen McLaughlin was also a member of the Assembly during those historic years and indeed was a member of the very first Executive Council under the 1959 Constitution.
There is great truth in the saying: “to know where you’re going, you need to know where you came from”. So, I will provide some context of the times in which those nation-builders found themselves.
The 1950s and early 1960s were a time of great change for the Cayman Islands as well as for the other British Caribbean Colonies, including Jamaica, to whom we were aligned and by whom we were governed.
The West Indies Federation that was promoted by the UK after the Second World War, was eventually formed in 1958, but dissolved by 1962 as Jamaica and Trinidad opted for independence and self-determination rather than Federation.
Despite the trend by some colonies to seek independence, Caymanians were determined to not just be swept along in the wake of the growing nationalism of our larger neighbours, especially Jamaica. The nationalism preferred by Caymanians was a more cautious one whereby we would preserve our own national identity and way of life while being masters of our own destiny.
As a dependency of Jamaica, the Cayman Islands was very keen that our interests were being protected in any discussions regarding Federation. Members of the then Legislative Assembly Ernest Panton, T.W. Farrington and Ormond Panton, led by Ducan Merren travelled to the Federation discussions in Jamaica and made it clear that Cayman would not join the Federation unless we had direct representation in it. This proposal was soundly rejected by the big players.
But the Caymanian representatives remained resolute and on April 7 1955, six Assemblymen sent a petition to the UK Colonial Secretary through the UK Governor of Jamaica. They stated in part that “… we wish to restate, as clearly and as strongly as we can, three main aims. First, we wish to retain the right to control entry to our islands. Secondly, we wish to retain our rights to decide what taxes should be imposed upon us. Thirdly, we wish to retain our right to maintain our established channels of trade and employment overseas.”
Eventually the Jamaica Government, led by Premier Norman Manley, became content to let the British Governor of Jamaica resolve the Cayman Islands issue.
Locally, however, opinions were bitterly divided - some preferred obtaining increased local control over Caymanian interests and remaining with the UK, whilst others favoured a break with the United Kingdom and a closer relationship with Jamaica, or within the framework of the Federation. Given the rancour the issue was not to be resolved for several more years.
But what was agreed unanimously was the need for the Cayman Islands to have a modern written constitution that would protect the interests of the Cayman Islands at a time of great uncertainty and change.
And thus, it was agreed by the UK that the Cayman Islands would receive our first written constitution by a Royal Order-In-Council. And so on July 4, 1959, with the coming into effect of the new Constitution, Caymanians took the first step towards political advancement for the Islands. The constitution specifically exempted us from the control of the Jamaican Legislature and we were placed directly under the authority of the British Governor of Jamaica with the ability to directly make our own laws.
The constitution also provided some radical changes to our Legislature. After 127 years, the Assembly of Justices and Vestrymen were replaced by two new bodies, the Legislative Assembly and the Executive Council.
With a modern system of government strengthened by our own constitution we were better able to forge our own way as a British Crown colony, and to make fundamental policy decisions and to pass laws that strengthened our economic viability. A key early law was the 1960 Companies Law on which our financial services industry was built.
The government elected in 1959 understood, as had previous ones, that to encourage foreign investment and develop tourism there was a desperate need to eradicate our mosquito problem. (Those of you who were not here until after the 1980s will not appreciate what mosquitoes were really like.) It was hoped that the passage of the 1960 Companies Law would significantly improve government revenue and enable the funding of a programme to control the mosquito population.
By 1965, with the growth of the company registration business, the government was indeed earning sufficient fees to fund a fledgling Mosquito Research and Control Unit. And as they say, the rest is history, yet another important milestone in our development had become possible through our new constitutional arrangement.
And so in more ways than one, the adoption of the1959 Constitution is rightly considered the seminal event which gave rise to the modern Cayman Islands as a tourism destination and international financial services centre.
There was one other event that occurred prior to the 1959 Constitution that helped to forge modern-day Cayman. That was the passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Bill which became law in December 1958. This provided for the first time for all adult Caymanians to have the right to vote and stand for election.
The passage of this law took Caymanian women some 11 years, starting in 1948, and several attempts before succeeding.
And so in the 1959 General Elections, not only did women vote but four women were on the ballot for the first time in our history. These brave pioneering politicians were Mrs. Burdell Jackson (West Bay), Mrs. Ethel Cook-Bodden (George Town), Mrs. Francine Jackson (Bodden Town), and Mrs. Laurel Watler (Bodden Town).
While none of these ladies was elected, their courage and effort blazed the trail for the very first woman to be elected to office in the following general election, National Hero the Honourable Mary Evelyn Wood.
Today we will honour those four brave political trailblazers. In the coming months, we will hold celebrations in all of our districts to honour the 358 women who signed the petition for their right to vote and stand for office. We all remember those ladies with pride and so do I – indeed my grandmother was one of those courageous petitioners.
The important role that women have played, and continue to play, in creating a modern Cayman Islands is significant. This is why when I was Minister for Culture in 2009, the Government I was a part of dedicated the monument “Aspiration” here in Heroes Square as part of the 2009 Heroes Day observances. Aspiration depicts two women, one young and one older, mounting stairs, passing and receiving the baton of opportunity, moving upwards from past to future, and is a permanent tribute to the contribution of women to the development of the Cayman Islands.
I said earlier that the Constitution is a living document and thus it has been updated from time to time. Some amendments were minor and others, such as the 1972 and 2009 Constitution Orders were significant and brought an increasingly more modern and balanced style of governance with increased delegated authority to the elected arm, as well as greater consultation and accountability in the running of the country.
More recently this Government, with the support of Opposition MLAs worked, and agreed, with the United Kingdom to make several other important amendments to the 2009 document.
I again commend all colleagues on both sides of the Legislative Assembly for demonstrating wisdom, foresight and statesmanship by unanimously supporting these important improvements. Improvements that confirm that the Caymanian people, via their democratically elected representatives, have exclusive authority in respect of domestic affairs and that the UK, its parliament or government, will not seek in the future to legislate, directly or indirectly, for the Cayman Islands without, at a minimum, consultation with the Cayman Islands Government. I also pay tribute to the Governor for his invaluable guidance and support in this initiative.
In securing the UK’s agreement to those improvements we are, as current legislators, doing our part to keep the constitution alive and relevant to today’s Cayman and to better serve and protect the interests of our people. In doing so we continue the tradition of those pioneers who have gone before and who advocated for our very first Constitution.
As a part of our constitution celebrations, tomorrow the Currency Division of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority will issue a Commemorative $1 banknote in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the 1959 Constitution. These will begin circulation at local banks starting this week. Those of you here today will, however, as a gift from the government, receive your own commemorative banknote encased in a protective sleeve as a keepsake and to thank you for joining us today at Heroes Square.
I also thank those whose hard work has made today possible - Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose, the Protocol Office, the Celebrate Cayman Committee, and all of the many parade contingents, volunteers and performing artists.
We are indeed a blessed people, highly favoured by the God in whom we trust. I am almost the same age as our constitution and often these days as I reflect on the Cayman I grew up in compared to the Cayman I live in today I shake my head in disbelief. When I think of the hardships and privations that mine and previous generations endured and the sacrifices made to build this little nation, I sometimes cry with gratitude.
The progress we have made in my lifetime can only be described as incredible. From a population of 7,000 people 60 years ago to some 70,000 today, we have come a very long way indeed. But knowing our people as I do, our strength, our resourcefulness and vision, I do believe the best is still to come.
In the years ahead, the Premier who stands where I do today will not necessarily bear the name of McLaughlin, Tibbetts, Connolly or Bush. And our National Heroes will not be only Boddens, Farringtons, Pantons, McTaggarts or Watlers. From its first settlement nearly 400 years ago our country has been a land of immigrants. And still, it continues.
Immigration has made us one of the most successful and progressive countries in the region and indeed in the world. Despite the challenges posed by the pace of our growth and development, we remain the best place on earth to visit, to live, to raise children and to work.
We believe in God, in democracy, in the rule of law and in the right of each person to their own opinion. Our differences serve to make us better and stronger and there is far more that unites us than divides us.
On this Heroes Day as we honour and celebrate the efforts and achievements of those who have gone before, let us also acknowledge the blessings of the present and look to the promise of the future with excitement, expectation and optimism. One love, one heart, one people, one nation under God. Long may it endure.
God bless you all, and may God continue to bless these Beloved Isles Cayman.