Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush fired back at Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford last Thursday for the statement he read in the Legislative Assembly concerning a Caymanian Compass front-page article about a Port Authority audit.
Mr. Clifford took offence with the Compass article because it quoted two senior members of the Auditor General’s office as saying the current audit on the Port Authority was not a new matter, and that it did not involve a situation concerning Port Authority land adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
A Cayman Net News article of 15 July stated the Auditor General would be undertaking an investigation into the alleged irregularities, including one relating the land next to the Ritz-Carlton.
In his address to the House, Mr. Clifford said he wrote to the Governor on 5 July about what he termed Port Authority irregularities during Mr. Bush’s administration that were beyond the scope of the Auditor General’s current audit, and requested the Auditor General review the matters urgently.
The Acting Auditor General told the Caymanian Compass last week that his office had ‘definitely not’ taken any instructions from the Governor’s office on the Port Authority matter.
Mr. Bush said he was told the same then by both the Governor and the Audit Department.
‘I called His Excellency the Governor on the matter,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘He confirmed to me that he had ordered no investigation and that he understood that there was the ongoing check on value-for-money by the Audit Department that commenced last year.
‘I also called the Audit Department, and what the Governor had told me was confirmed by them – the same as the Caymanian Compass newspaper carried yesterday.
‘I see… that the Caymanian Compass did what a good newspaper should do – check the facts.’
Mr. Bush pointed out that Mr. Clifford seemed to take offence also with the Auditor General’s office.
Mr. Clifford’s address to the House seemed to confirm that point.
‘If the (Caymanian Compass) article accurately reflects what was said by the Auditor General’s staff, then that is cause for additional concern because they suggest in the article that what they are doing is a routine standard audit which we know is commonly done randomly on all Government agencies,’ Mr. Clifford said.
‘They further suggest that the works involving the dredging of the Port Authority’s property which is adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton development is not included in their audit.
‘The report, which I sent to His Excellency the Governor 16 days ago on 5 July 2005, included issues with this same project, so for the Auditor General’s office to say that it is not included suggests that his office is either seriously deficient of resources or skills to properly deal with such matters.’
‘I hope that the latter is not the case and if the former is the problem, then the Auditor General’s office must acquire those resources or the Governor will have to look to alternatives in the future.’
Mr. Clifford cited several reasons for reporting the additional Port Authority matters to the Governor.
‘First of all, it is important that we document these issues so that this PPM Administration and the staff of the Port Authority are not tarnished by the actions of others from the past,’ he said. ‘Secondly, government, and ministers in particular, must be accountable for their actions and this PPM Administration is no exception.’
Thirdly, Mr. Clifford said the country must have an open and transparent government to prevent a recurrence of these issues in the future.
Mr. Bush said he too welcomed transparency and accountability and challenged Mr. Clifford to say what misconduct or irregularities he was talking about.
‘I have nothing to be ashamed or afraid of,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘Let there be an investigation on the Port, West Bay and George Town, and the purchase of land or for the planned marina for the North Sound boat operators in the watersports business.
‘However, let it be without the Minister’s interference or veiled threats on the Audit Office.’
Mr. Bush suggested that politics was behind the matter.
‘In his political zeal, in the name of the Government’s proclamation of doing the right thing and being accountable, who is (Mr. Clifford) accusing now? The Governor? The Auditor General?,’ Mr. Bush asked.
Speaking about the Cayman Net News article, Mr. Bush said his family, supporters and friends believe ‘there is a spiteful and vindictive political campaign’ to denigrate him.
‘They also believe that the Net News is agent provocateur of the Minister (Charles Clifford).’
Mr. Bush pointed out that he is suing Cayman Net News and its publisher Desmond Seales and that he hoped the case would get under way by 29 August.