Mired in a seemingly increasing controversy over Boatswain’s Beach financing arrangements, Cayman Islands Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush filed two documents in Legislative Assembly this week aimed at enacting Anti-Corruption and Transparency Laws.
Mr. Bush also publicly called on Tourism Minister Charles Clifford to resign, or be removed, from his position in Cabinet if police decide to investigate the Boatswain’s Beach matter.
Mr. Clifford said Tuesday that there was no reason for him to be removed from Cabinet.
‘This is simply a smoke screen by Mr. Bush to distract attention from the potential police investigation and the findings of the Auditor General,’ Mr. Clifford said.
Both Mr. Clifford and Mr. Bush sat on the Boatswain’s Beach Board of Directors at the time financing arrangements were approved for the Turtle Farm expansion project. Mr. Bush chaired the board while he was Leader of Government Business. Mr. Clifford was Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Tourism at the time he was on the board.
A recent Auditor General’s report said more than half the US $2.8 million spent to arrange the financing had little or no value to Cayman Islands residents.
Both men have traded barbs over the past week, which included allegations of conflicts of interest and misuse of public funds. The ruling People’s Progressive Movement government has called for a police investigation into the debt financing deal at Boatswain’s, which was approved during Mr. Bush’s administration.
In a telephone conversation with the Caymanian Compass late Monday, Mr. Bush said he is tired of allegations from the PPM, which he said are not backed up by facts.
On Monday, Mr. Bush filed two separate private members motions that are likely to be heard at the next sitting of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly, which begins 30 August.
The first motion calls for Openness and Transparency Legislation that would require certain government-controlled boards like the Immigration Board, the Central Planning Authority and the Public Accounts Committee to be open to the public.
The measure would also prohibit members and ministers of government, or their designees, from chairing government boards.
Both issues were also raised last week by PPM Cabinet ministers as areas where government needs to improve.
Mr. Clifford has previously said that Mr. Bush chairing the Boatswain’s Beach board while he was leader of Cayman Islands government represented a ‘clear conflict of interest.’
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts has said Mr. Bush and former United Democratic Party minister Frank McField drove the decisions of the boards they chaired through the ‘force of their personalities.’
Mr. Bush and Mr. McField have said allegations from the ruling government were being made to score political points with voters ahead of the May 2009 elections.
Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said last week that he supported open meetings for boards like the Public Accounts Committee. But Mr. McLaughlin said he wasn’t certain that open meetings were possible in the current environment.
‘We do believe the affairs…of the Public Accounts Committee ought to be conducted in the open,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘There is significant resistance on the part of the…civil service, the officialdom…because the principle witnesses in these matters are usually civil servants.
‘We have no objection whatsoever (to open meetings),’ he said.
The other motion filed by Mr. Bush included a request that the government introduce an Anti-Corruption Bill for debate in the legislature.
The motion filed by Mr. Bush states a code of ethics already exists for MLAs but that those measures are not ‘sufficiently covered by law.’
The second motion seeks to prevent certain civil servants, such as chief officers of government departments, from running in a general election until at least one year after leaving the service. That measure also would require certain senior public servants to declare their interests in the Register of Interests.
Mr. Clifford resigned as Permanent Secretary of the Tourism Ministry in 2004 and ran successfully for office several months later.
During a Friday press briefing, Mr. Clifford reiterated that he resigned from the ministry over concerns about some ‘irregularities’ in the government administration. However, Mr. Bush said he recalls Mr. Clifford supporting the financing arrangements for the Boatswain’s Beach project.
Mr. Clifford has argued that, in his prior position as permanent secretary, he had to support Mr. Bush at that time.
‘The civil service is responsible for ensuring the implementation of (government’s) policies,’ Mr. Clifford said. ‘If there’s a breakdown in that system…particularly one at a senior level like a permanent secretary refuses to implement that policy, the whole system of governance breaks down.
‘For anyone to suggest that in my role as permanent secretary I should have gone public with my disagreements with the then-minister (Mr. Bush) doesn’t understand how the system works. Had I done that, do you think I would have been allowed to remain as permanent secretary?’
The PPM government said it has already started work on Anti-Corruption legislation but gave no timeline for the completion of that bill.