Housing report due today

The Governor’s office confirmed Monday that that Auditor General’s final special forensic report on the activities of the National Housing and Community Development Trust is scheduled to be made public this week.

‘Barring any technical difficulties, the report will be posted on the government website Wednesday afternoon,’ said Simon Tonge, head of the Governor’s office.

Mr. Tonge also said the report would be circulated to the media via Government Information Services.

The Auditor General’s preliminary report into the activities of the NHCDT from 1 September 2004 until May of this year was made public on 17 June and was very critical of several actions of the Trust and the former Minister of Housing, Frank McField.

The final report, which reviews all off the activities of the Affordable Housing Initiative since its inception, is expected to be equally critical.

The report was requested by the Governor one week after the new administration took office after the 11 May general elections.

Mr. McField claimed the report was motivated by politics, something the Government denied.

In the preliminary report, Mr. McField was not given an opportunity to respond to any of the findings, however he was given that chance for the final report, but only with regard to certain items in which his name is specifically mentioned.

Auditor General Dan Duguay met with Mr. McField last week to discuss those items. Their meeting was recorded by the former Housing Minister with the knowledge and approval of Mr. Duguay.

Mr. McField queried Mr. Duguay about why he was afforded the opportunity to respond on a limited scope to this report, and not at all to the preliminary report.

‘On the advice of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Financial Crime Unit, I was requested not to do the normal practice,’ Mr. Duguay responded.

As a matter of policy, the Auditor General normally allows people mentioned by name or position in one of his reports to respond to what is written, Mr. Duguay said.

In the preliminary report, Mr. Duguay noted that his investigation was not a police investigation, and that the RCIP had only been there at his request when documents and electronic information were seized at the NHCDT and the Ministry of Community Services offices.

However, things changed on 17 June, the day the preliminary report was released, and an RCIP criminal investigation was commenced.

Mr. McField said that Mr. Duguay came to his home and office with a court warrant concerning ‘suspicion of the commission of official corruption and conspiracy to defraud.’

In their meeting, Mr. Duguay explained to Mr. McField his role in the investigation.

‘I was asked by Superintendent Mike Needham to assist in the investigation and was sworn in as a Special Constable of the RCIP, and under that capacity I assisted in the investigation,’ he said.

Mr. Duguay confirmed his role as a Special Constable at the raid of Mr. McField’s home and office.

‘I wouldn’t normally say that publicly, but since it has been disclosed by Dr. Frank, I will confirm that,’ he said.

In acknowledging that there is a criminal investigation into his actions as Minister of Community Services and Chairman of the NHCDT, Mr. McField questioned if, by publishing audit reports containing many material details of the Housing Trust’s activities, it would prejudice his chances of a fair trial if any charges were ever brought against him.

‘I find it very strange,’ Mr. McField said.

Mr. Duguay said facts material to the criminal investigation were omitted from both the preliminary and final reports.

‘Both reports were reviewed by the RCIP and by the legal arm of the government, and in their opinion, they would not prejudice any on-going investigation,’ he said. ‘We relied on that advice.’

Mr. McField said he believed the information contained in the reports, whether it was material to the criminal investigation or not, cast a shadow of suspicion on him that would taint a potential jury.

‘The jury would be reading these types of facts surrounding the case,’ he said. ‘How can they distinguish between what was material and what was not. They will believe something was not above board.

‘Just the fact there was a forensic audit means there was something not right in the Auditor General’s eyes.’

Mr. McField also said he found it strange that Mr. Duguay had acted as a Special Constable for the RCIP.

‘I don’t understand it because in that capacity he’s taking orders from someone else,’ he said. ‘The Auditor General should not be answerable to others.’

In their meeting, Mr. McField was often antagonistic, making it clear he did not trust the Auditor General to be fair with him.

For the most part he refused to respond to the elements of the Auditor General’s report to which he was given the opportunity to do so.

He did respond to a part of the report concerning money owed for rent by his company Capital Business System for a home at the Affordable Housing Initiative site off Eastern Avenue.

‘There’s an amount outstanding because Roger Bodden (the manager of the NHCDT) tore up the cheque,’ Mr. McField said.

Mr. Duguay asked for a copy of the cheque, but Mr. McField refused to give it to him.

Mr. Bodden has reportedly denied tearing up the check, however Elizabeth Ebanks, a former employee of Capital Business Systems, confirmed Tuesday that Mr. Bodden did in fact tear up a cheque she presented him and said ‘nasty things’ to her when doing it.

Also on Tuesday, Mr. McField presented the torn cheque to the Caymanian Compass. It was written in the amount of CI$3,500, made out to the NHCDT and dated 5 August, the same day of a quarrelsome altercation between Mr. McField and Mr. Bodden at the Eastern Avenue site in which police were summoned at Mr. McField’s request.

Attached to the torn cheque was a torn invoice showing three month’s of outstanding rent at $1,000 per month for May, June and July of this year.

A water assessment of CI$500 was also included on the invoice for the same period.

The invoice was dated 22 July; however Ms Ebanks initialled it received on 4 August. A torn notice to vacate the house was also attached to the invoice, dated 22 July as well.

Mr. Bodden tried to enforce the eviction notice the next day, even ordering the water be cut off to the homes.

Police were summoned and Mr. McField said they advised Mr. Bodden that evictions would have to go through the court.

The other part of the Auditor General’s report which Mr. McField was given the opportunity to respond to involved his using his influence as a Minister to interfere with the NHDCT’s operations in allocating Affordable Housing Initiative homes.

Three cases were cited, although recipients were not identified.

Mr. McField said one of the recipients was the governor’s chauffer, while another one was a government employee working for the Ministry of Community Services and dealing with probations.

‘It was after the hurricane. These people were homeless,’ Mr. McField said. ‘They needed housing so they could perform their official duties for the country.’

Mr. McField said it was good to have people from different social classes owning AHI homes.

‘We recognised it would not be a bad idea to have more of a social mixture,’ he said. ‘Before, some people didn’t want these homes. All of a sudden, these people had a desire and a need to go in there.’