Fur flies over Turtle Farm

The political back and forth over allegations of maladministration and conflicts of interest in the Cayman Island’s previous government reached a fever pitch on Friday as both sides exchanged verbal salvos in the media.

Mr. Bush

Mr. Bush

The open hostilities added drama to the ongoing debate, but provided little clarity on specific concerns, which mainly centred around who played what role in approving debt financing arrangements for the Boatswain’s Beach/Cayman Turtle Farm project.

The Auditor General had previously reported more than half the US $2.8 million spent to help arrange that financing had little or no value to Cayman Islands residents.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service had not decided Friday whether it would launch a full investigation into the debt financing arrangements. It has been urged to do so by both Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts and Auditor General Dan Duguay.

The day began with an often heated, more than hour long question and answer session with Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush Friday morning on local radio station Rooster 101.9. Mr. Bush was Leader of Government Business and chairman of the Cayman Turtle Farm board when the financing arrangements for the project were approved.

During the eight and nine o’clock hours of the radio talk show, Mr. Bush defended his decisions to build out the Turtle Farm and said financing arrangements ended in millions of dollars in savings on the overall project.

Mr. Bush hurled personal insults at Mr. Tibbetts and Tourism Minister Charles Clifford during the radio appearance. Mr. Clifford was also on the board as Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism when the Turtle Farm financing expenses were approved. Mr. Bush said Mr. Clifford was seeking to avoid admitting his role in the project.

‘Charles Clifford just got up and made statements, upon statements, upon statements,’ Mr. Bush said on the talk show. ‘He wanted to get to this point to shift focus.’

Mr. Clifford accused Mr. Bush of trying to create ‘a distraction’ from the Turtle Farm financing issues.

‘What I heard was said on the radio (Friday) morning certainly seems like the screams and shouts of a very desperate man,’ Mr. Clifford said.

Mr. Clifford said he was scheduled to appear on the talk show Friday, but was forced to try and reschedule because of other pressing business.

Mr. Bush told the Caymanian Compass late Friday afternoon that he had met with Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack to discuss issues related to the Turtle Farm, focusing on the role of various board members who approved the project, including Mr. Clifford.

The governor’s office did not respond to Compass queries about the meeting.

Mr. Tibbetts refused to discuss any of Mr. Bush’s comments on Friday.

‘The government has a country to run, and the government is going to stay with its task,’ he said. ‘What we’re not going to do is chase anyone’s tail, especially his.’

Mr. Tibbetts on 13 July accused his predecessor’s government of ‘gross maladministration,’ which he said had cost Cayman ‘millions of dollars’ in unwarranted expenditure. His comments were based on a series of reports by the Auditor General’s office, which included reviews of the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal project, the Affordable Housing Initiative, the Cayman General insurance settlement following Hurricane Ivan, and the Turtle Farm project financing arrangements.

Mr. Bush said the Auditor General was biased.

‘The AG has not been objective,’ he stated on Friday’s radio programme. ‘The AG up until now has not questioned me about anything.’

Mr. Duguay has previously denied any biases in interviews with the Compass.

‘I have no political affiliation,’ Mr. Duguay said. ‘I’m an expat and have no voting status. I don’t have any vendettas. I don’t have any personal agendas.’

Meanwhile, Cayman Islands Cabinet Ministers said they resented implications by Mr. Bush (see Compass, 20 July) that the government’s Public Accounts Committee was moving too slowly to review the Auditor General’s reports on various matters, including the Turtle Farm debt financing.

The committee is chaired by back bench MLA Osbourne Bodden.

Mr. Bush has said previously that such oversight committees are generally chaired and run by opposition party members.

Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said it’s the government’s eventual wish to turn the chairmanship of the PAC over to the opposition. However, because of the backlog of cases, he said that would create a situation where the previous government…now Cayman’s opposition party…would be hearing auditor’s reports on projects it approved in the first place.

‘They’re still dealing with the previous administration’s reports,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.

Mr. Bodden added that at least one of the items, the Affordable Housing Initiative, is still under review by police and cannot be heard by the committee until the criminal investigation is complete.

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