Conflict of interest a concern

Cayman Islands Cabinet Ministers recently said a damning report on Boatswain’s Beach debt financing arrangements has showcased a major problem with the way the country is run.

‘It is a very, very clear conflict of interests,’ Tourism Minister Charles Clifford said last week.

An Auditor General’s review reported 10 July in the Caymanian Compass concluded more than half the US $2.8 million spent on firms who helped arrange financing for the Boatswain’s Beach project had little or no value to Cayman Islands residents.

The report prompted calls for a criminal investigation, and allegations of political posturing against the ruling government from opposition party members including Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush.

Mr. Bush was chairman of the board that oversaw Boatswain’s Beach, also known as the Cayman Turtle Farm, during its development. He said Monday that the ruling government was using a series of negative auditor’s reports to discredit him and his United Democratic Party before the May 2009 elections.

But even if it’s determined Mr. Bush’s government did nothing legally wrong, Mr. Clifford said there’s still a problem.

‘There are board and management issues coming out of the Auditor General’s report that must be addressed,’ said Mr. Clifford.

‘Another lesson that must be learned from all of this is the lack of wisdom and the incorrectness of elected members, and ministers in particular, serving as chairmen of these boards. Ministers should not be sitting in Cabinet deciding on policy, and then going into the board room to direct decisions with respect to the implementation of those policies.’

‘It is just wrong,’ he said.

Mr. Clifford, while serving as permanent secretary for the Ministry of Tourism, also sat on the Turtle Farm board. He quit the civil service in 2004 after what he said were private disagreements with Mr. Bush about issues surrounding the project. In the months that followed his resignation, Mr. Clifford successfully ran for office and was appointed Tourism Minister.

‘I made the decision (in 2004) that I was not going to continue to be in a position…where I was obliged to support the minister,’ he said.

Mr. Bush has said (Caymanian Compass, 13 July) that Mr. Clifford in 2003 had congratulated the Turtle Farm board’s financial advisory committee for their work on the Boatswain’s Beach matter.

‘No doubt Mr. Clifford now would like to make this a bigger issue, with the unfounded opinions of the Auditor General to back him up,’ Mr. Bush has said.

Auditor General Dan Duguay responded to Mr. Bush’s criticism of his report by stating: ‘He worries a lot about my opinions.’

Another issue raised by the Auditor General concerning conflicts of interests on government boards was dealt with in a report released following three audits of the Cayman Islands Affordable Housing Initiative.

Former Minister Frank McField, who was a member of Mr. Bush’s government, was chairman of the board, which oversaw the initiative. According to police, Mr. McField is under investigation in connection with some of the findings in that report, but he has not been charged with any crime.

Mr. Duguay was highly critical of how decisions were made in doling out government contracts for the project.

‘The unilateral decision to award the contracts to Staunch Limited by the former minister (Mr. McField) who was also the Chairman of the NHCDT – National Housing and Community Development Trust – at that point and time, was inappropriate,’ the Auditor General’s report stated.

Mr. McField declined to comment Monday on the specifics of the auditor’s report, citing an on-going criminal investigation. However, he said he was disappointed Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts had decided to discuss the matter at a news conference.

‘If he’s (Mr. Tibbetts) going to talk like that, and there’s a police investigation going on, he’s already prejudicing my case,’ Mr. McField said.

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