The chairman of the Cayman Islands Standing Public Accounts Committee confirmed in an e-mail to the Caymanian Compass this week that the committee intends to perform reviews of some controversial reports from the Auditor General’s office soon.
However, Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden said the committee would not be able to review or call witnesses in cases that are under investigation by police or before the court.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush criticised the ruling government in a recent statement in which he said cases were taking too long to come before the Public Accounts Committee.
‘If as the PPM (People’s Progressive Movement) says, they are interested in accountability and transparency,’ Mr. Bush said in the statement, ‘they should also be moving to have these matters reviewed by the PAC with the same fervour that they are waging their campaign to discredit every project carried out by the former (UDP) government.’
Aspects of four separate projects handled by Mr. Bush’s administration have been criticised in reports from the Auditor General’s office. At least one of those matters, the Affordable Housing Initiative, has been the subject of a lengthy criminal investigation by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
At press time, RCIPS Commissioner Stuart Kernohan had not said whether there would be a full-blown criminal probe into the debt financing of the Boatswain’s Beach/Cayman Turtle Farm project.
Until that ruling is made, Mr. Bodden said only the Auditor General’s reports on the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal project and the post-Hurricane Ivan insurance settlement with Cayman General are left as issues for the committee to review.
Mr. Bush said he sent a letter to Mr. Bodden ‘expressing concern that many of the investigations that have been conducted by the Auditor General (have) not been dealt with by his (Public Accounts) Committee.’
The Public Accounts Committee review differs from the investigative efforts of the Auditor General’s office in that witnesses can be forced to appear before the committee. Also, the committee can publicly censure government officials, which the AG’s office cannot do.
Some ruling party members have recently questioned whether the committee’s disciplinary powers go far enough, and if the country should have more severe penalties for public officials who are found to have misused government funds without actually committing a crime.
Mr. Bodden said he had received Mr. Bush’s letter and was preparing a response. He said none of the Auditor General’s reports mentioned by Mr. Bush had been dealt with by the Public Accounts Committee. However, Mr. Bodden noted the committee has a lot of administrative work to do.
‘We have completed the government’s 2003 financials, started the 2004 financials and completed the Debris Removal (Contract) report,’ Mr. Bodden wrote. ‘We have been taking reports in chronological order, but it is up to the committee if they wish to review any report before another.’
Mr. Bodden also admitted getting a quorum among busy PAC board members was ‘not always easy,’ even though he said the committee had met many times in the past two years.
In a telephone interview Monday, Mr. Bush also questioned why a member of the ruling party was sitting at the head of the Public Accounts Committee. He said that chairmanship is generally given to the opposition.
Mr. Bodden said the PPM agreed its appointee would chair and maintain majority control of the committee until it was finished with reports that dealt with matters from the prior administration.