20 November 2011

Cayman Premier coordinates national response to UK territories policy review; concern for short timetable provided by British

Statement in regards to the UK – Overseas Territories Relationship Consultation Process
  by the Honorable McKeeva Bush
Cayman Islands

presented in the Legislative Assembly
on 17 November, 2011

Thank you Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker, over the past couple of weeks there has been public criticism by the Opposition and others, of the recent public consultation exercise in respect of the proposed 2012 White Paper on the relationship between the UK and the Overseas Territories, particularly the amount of time allowed for the consultation period, and the scheduling of the consultation.

photo by by Dennie Warren, Jr.

The criticisms made by certain Members of the House and at least one media outlet, were aimed at my Government, and at my role in particular.I therefore want to take this opportunity to ensure that Honourable Members of this House, and the general public, have a clear understanding of how the consultation process for the 2012 White Paper on the United Kingdom and Overseas Territories relationship came about. 

The short answer is that it was not until the 14th of September 2011 that the Secretary of State made an announcement about the consultation process to the UK Parliament. The Minister for Overseas Territories Henry Bellingham, MP then sent a letter to me on the 16th of September 2011 outlining, their policy goals. It was not until the 27th September 2011, in a speech made in Bermuda, that a public consultation process was invited from the Overseas Territories by Minister Bellingham.

The consultation process has followed a timetable set by the FCO. In fact, they propose to bring forward the date for agreement on the new White Paper from June to spring 2012, and we are endeavouring to push it back. Because I am required to present our initial findings at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council next week, the local Review Committee recommended a deadline of 4th November, 2011 so that it would have time to prepare its report.

The questions that were put to the public in our consultation exercise originated from a website created by the FCO. The only change made was that we substituted the words Overseas Territories with Cayman Islands.

Madam Speaker, on the first of November the Member for North Side took to the airwaves as he usually does on Tuesday mornings and proceeded to confuse and mislead the people of this country. He did the same again at a public meeting in North Side.

The Member for North Side said on the Cayman Cross Talk show on November 1st that I had known about this white paper consultation a year ago, and that now we were rushing to complete it by the deadline. He said this was unacceptable and unreasonable.  The I-News of November 3, 2010 reported that the Member for North Side at a public meeting on November 2 said, quote: “I am disappointed with the secrecy that has surrounded this effort, and that fault lies with only one person: the Premier. He has known since November ‘10. Why has he not conducted this publicly?” Unquote.  I lay a copy of that news article on the table of the House.

Madam Speaker, the Member’s claim of secrecy is untrue. All that was known from the Overseas Territories Consultative Council meeting of November 2010 was that there was to be a review of the UK-OT relationship by the FCO. There was nothing more at the time. I gave notice of the review when I came back from the OTCC in November – December 2010.

Mr. Colin Wilson also jumped on the misinformation bandwagon with an editorial in the November 8th edition of the I-News, in which he accused me of not telling the country about the public consultation until the eleventh hour, and I quote: “Hon. McKeeva Bush knew about the required public consultation in March and did not announce it until October,” unquote. He goes on to say, and I quote: “Now there is a mad rush to conduct the meetings and as Opposition leader Alden McLaughlin said, ‘People do not have the opportunity to understand the issues that matter, never mind go on to make a constructive contribution. People are being deprived of a proper opportunity to make representations.’” Unquote.  I table a copy of that editorial.

Madam Speaker, if people are being deprived of the opportunity to make representations that is not of my doing.  Let me make it perfectly clear Madam Speaker, the pubic consultation process on the UK’s relationship with the Overseas Territories is not an undertaking by me or the Cayman Islands Government.   This review and consultation is at the behest of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).  The Cayman Islands Government through the Cabinet Office facilitated that survey of local views, but it is the FCO that initiated review of the White Paper, and the consultation has been placed within the time-frame set by them. It is the FCO that decided when to announce the public consultation, it is the FCO that drew up the questions to be asked, it is the FCO that is driving the entire consultation process. I could not announce or begin the consultation process without the Terms of Reference, which the FCO has determined.

To support this point I would draw your attention to a news release sent by the Governor’s office and dated Tuesday, 28 September. This was not even sent out by GIS. This came directly from the Governor’s Office. The headline is: “FCO Minister Launches White Paper Dialogue”
The introduction reads, and I quote:  “Henry Bellingham, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has formally launched a consultation process in respect of the 2012 White Paper on the UK’s relationship with the Overseas Territories. His full speech, which was delivered on Monday during his visit to Bermuda, can be found on the Governor’s Office website…,” unquote. Madam Speaker, I lay a copy of that news release on the table of the House.

As for me knowing about the public consultation in March, I received a letter from Minister Bellingham dated 9 March 2011 regarding the UK and OT relationship review.  This letter does not make any mention of a public consultation. The letter detailed the three strands of the OT strategy and it says the Foreign Secretary plans to present the thinking outlined in the letter to the National Security Council ‘this spring’. 

“I envisage that we will discuss with each Territory the detailed substance of the relationship with the UK.  We will create opportunities for exchange of views and discussion as we work towards a new White Paper later in 2011 which sets out in detail our path to a sustainable and successful future,” end of quote.  The point is, at that stage they were still engaged in their internal process, and their positions were not put forward until months later, as I said before.

On the 7th of September I made a statement in this Honourable House advising Members that I would seek Cabinet’s approval to establish a committee to review the process for our Country.  I emphasised that it is a two-part process, and that the first, input into the defining terms that are proposed to guide the evolution of the new strategy, had to be commenced immediately.

In that statement I said that the second part is geared towards more detailed review and input into the new UK-Overseas Territories agreement. I went on to say that the initial timetable, set out in November 2010 by the FCO Minister, was that the new framework was to be agreed by June 2012, but that now that they were starting the process, the UK had now suggested a radical shortening of this timetable, which would call for agreement to be reached by the spring of 2012, with all matters being reported by November this year, in time for the OTCC. I told Honourable Members that I am seriously concerned that this would prejudice the prospects of Territories, including ourselves, to put forward our best position, and accordingly intended to robustly challenge this new timetable, which I continue to do and will further pursue at the OTCC next week.

So Madam Speaker, I expressed my concern about the time we were given to present our views from September 7th.  How in view of these facts, could anyone come now and say that it is my fault that the time for consultation is so short? Except that the Opposition and the Member for North Side have done nothing but twist the truth in all that they do!

On the 14th of September 2011 the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Rt. Hon. William Hague in a written ministerial statement advised the UK Parliament that the National Security Council had agreed the main principles of a new Overseas Territories strategy. His statement of 10 March had broached the intent of the UK Government in much broader terms. He informed Parliament on 14 September that, quote: “we are now engaging in discussion with the territories and our many stakeholders to identify the priorities for action in each relationship,” unquote.   In his closing paragraph Mr. Hague says the Government will publish a White Paper on the overseas territories ‘next year’.  Madam Speaker, I table a copy of that statement.

That statement was on the 14th of September, and then on the 16th of September a letter was sent to me from Minister Bellingham. In this letter for the first time we have reference to a consultation process that includes the general public.  In the letter Minister Bellingham said, quote:

“In order to focus discussion we have prepared a set of questions (attached) for you to consider. I would be grateful for your responses by 18 November, the end of the week before the Overseas Territories Consultative Council (OTCC). I want this consultation to include as many people in the Territories as possible. I encourage you to discuss with the Governor how best to do this,” end of quote.  

Madam Speaker, I table the relevant pages of that letter.

Madam Speaker, if the Minister for the Overseas Territories is telling me on September 16th that he wants responses from a consultation process that includes as many people of the Cayman Islands as possible by November 18th , how is that my fault?  I have no argument with the point that the consultation process was too brief. But for the Opposition Leader to say it is my fault is misleading the country which it seems he has no problem doing.

It was not until the 27th of September that Minister Bellingham publicly announced the consultation process in a speech while visiting Bermuda as referred to earlier in the news release that I tabled. In that speech he again said that he wanted the consultation process to include as many people as possible. He said that it was fitting to announce it at the college as the younger generation is the future. I table a copy of that speech.

I trust that the foregoing demonstrates that neither was I in a position to determine the timing of this consultation process, nor was I in a position to advise the public about it any sooner than it was done. The whole process was controlled by the FCO, not me, not my Government.

Madam Speaker, one has to really question the motives… question the intent… indeed question the sincerity of a Member who misleads the public so openly. At best it is negligent, at its worst it is malicious, and, without any foundation for doing so, appears calculated to undermine people’s confidence in the very institution of government in the Cayman Islands. Are they so blinded by ambition, Madam Speaker?

As for Colin Wilson’s editorial, Mr. Wilson should know that good journalists research their story to get the facts, and, they have an obligation to get both sides of the story - something he obviously needs to practice. I consider myself a student of history and I believe that there is good reason why news reports should be as accurate as possible. That editorial is likely to end up in an archive somewhere, and sometime in the future someone will read an editorial that distorts what actually happened.

 In his editorial Mr. Wilson referred to the UDP Government as “the most secretive of any administration I have known in the thirty years I have lived here.” Madam Speaker, I’ve been around politics since I was 17, that is longer than 30 years, and I know much more about the modus operandi of governments over the years than he ever will.  This Government is the most secretive administration in 30 years? That is a gross misrepresentation to say the least. 

Madam Speaker since we came to office in May of 2009 this Government has answered numerous Parliamentary Questions from June 2009 until September 2011.  There have been 1,366 Freedom of Information Requests filed since June of 2009, of that some 50 percent were either granted in full or granted in part.  Since February 2010 alone there have been 84 press releases from my office and many more from the Government through GIS, and I have held several press conferences and made several public statements.

How can Mr. Wilson call this Government the most secretive administration when his ace reporter Tad Stoner often talks to me personally and is able to quote me directly?  We may not always give Mr. Wilson the information he wants by his deadline but we do make information available to the public. All I ask is if someone is going to criticize the Government, then at least get the facts straight.

Madam Speaker, despite the short timeframe, I am proud to say here that the committee that was established to drive the consultation process made a sterling effort to reach out to as many stakeholders as possible and their efforts will be reflected in their report, which I will table in this Honourable House.  I will also venture to state that the various strategies that they employed to communicate with the Caymanian populace is unrivaled within the Overseas Territories, and I wish to publicly thank Mr. Lemuel Hurlston and his committee for their service.

In closing I should point out that people who have access to the internet can still make their views known to the FCO through the FCO website until 31 December 2011.  I encourage them to do so. I invite them to carefully consider my account of this White Paper consultation process, and to look forward to my progress report after the OTCC next week. Our relationship with the UK is of great importance to us as a government, as it remains of great importance to all of Cayman, to the people whom we serve. We do not take that service lightly. We strive robustly on a daily basis to advance the best interests of the Cayman Islands, and will certainly do so in this White Paper review. We will push for a true partnership, for mutually beneficial objectives, and to begin with, both a definition of principles and a timeframe for an agreement, which will effectively realize those ends. We do our utmost for the betterment of Cayman, and we have no fear of accountability for the service we render.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

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