A Minister’s constitutional responsibility

I refer to the Caymanian Compass editorial of Thursday, 30 March, 2006, titled Stop the politicking, which related to the excavation of the Port Authority’s property at Safe Haven by Cesar Marina Corporation Ltd.

While I understand that there will be times that the media will feel justified in criticizing the Government or a particular Minister I have nonetheless come to expect balanced and fair reporting from the Caymanian Compass.

The editorial to which I refer was wholly biased. It accused me of attacking the Leader of the Opposition, McKeeva Bush, over his conduct with respect to that project and suggested that the politicking stop as the elections are over.

What the editorial failed to point out is that the information regarding this project was revealed by me during an answer to a parliamentary question in the Legislative Assembly.

It also failed to point out the fact that as a Minister of Government I am constitutionally required to answer questions put to me by Members of the Legislative Assembly from both sides of the House.

I will always answer those questions factually and without fear or favour. I hasten to add that whenever I discover that I have been given information that is inaccurate I will always correct that at the first opportunity as I did in the case of the quantity of material removed from the Port Authority’s property at Safe Haven.

It doesn’t matter to me how much the Leader of the Opposition shouts and screams or how much support he may have in certain media houses. I can assure all readers that I will not shun my constitutional responsibility to answer parliamentary questions.

I believe that it is also important for me to point out that because I now have constitutional responsibility for the Ministry that the Leader of the Opposition was responsible for in the UDP administration, that some of the things that I will have to talk about in the Legislative Assembly, especially matters that occurred prior to the May 2005 General Elections, will make the Leader of the Opposition uncomfortable.

Notwithstanding that, all of us who choose public office, and the PPM Government is certainly no exception, must understand that our actions will be subject to public scrutiny and we must conduct ourselves accordingly.

The editorial attempted to make me the villain in this situation and focused on what they perceived as an attack by me on the Leader of the Opposition. The focus should have been on the significant issue of the conduct of a former Minister when he was Chairman of the Port Authority which resulted in approximately half of the Port Authority’s property at Safe Haven being excavated and the fill being used by a developer without any formal agreement in place. That is an indisputable fact and is one which most people in the country are concerned about.

The editorial also said that the focus should be on a solution to the problem that was created by the Leader of the Opposition.

The editor would have been aware from my answer to the parliamentary question that at the time the matter was being discussed in the Legislative Assembly, the Port Authority was working on a solution to the problem that would ensure the best interests of the Authority and the people of the Cayman Islands.

Why did the editorial not acknowledge that fact rather than suggesting that revealing this information would somehow prejudice a resolution of this matter?

The developer should know that the debate, which ensued in the Legislative Assembly following the answer to the parliamentary question, was not about him but rather about the conduct of the former Chairman of the Port Authority and now Leader of the Opposition.

During the various exchanges on this matter in the Legislative Assembly, the Leader of the Opposition in his usual style was very inappropriate in his attempt to mitigate the impact of this situation on him and suggested more than once that I was not telling the truth.

When I challenged him on this issue he refused to withdraw his remarks and the Speaker in agreeing that he was out of order, ordered the remarks removed from the record. Notwithstanding this Order, the Caymanian Compass in its editorial made reference to these inappropriate remarks. This was clearly in contempt of the Speaker’s Order as it essentially nullified that Order.

I note too that the Leader of the Opposition has continued his political rhetoric on this subject in an article captioned ‘Stifling the Opposition’ in the Friday, 7 April, 2006, edition of Cayman Net News. The only thing I will say about the article is that the Leader of the Opposition is clearly still of the belief that the more often he says something, whether it is true or not, that more people will believe him. Clearly his travel to the other districts during the last political campaign has taught him nothing.

I conclude by saying that the freedom of the media is a necessary and important component of a democratic society and I personally very much value my relationship with them.

However, just as politicians must be prepared to accept constructive criticism so too must the media and that is the intent of this letter.

However, just as politicians must be prepared to accept constructive criticism so too must the media and that is the intent of this letter.

However, just as politicians must be prepared to accept constructive criticism so too must the media and that is the intent of this letter.

Charles E. Clifford
2nd Elected Member for Bodden Town
Minister of Tourism, Environment, Investment and Commerce

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