Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack has ordered the creation of a commission of enquiry to look into allegations that Tourism Minister Charles Clifford took confidential government documents and distributed them to the media when he resigned as permanent secretary of the Ministry of Tourism in 2004.
The commission will be led by an unnamed retired judge from outside the Cayman Islands. Mr. Jack’s office did not state who would serve as members of the panel. The governor declined to comment about the matter when approached by a Caymanian Compass reporter Friday.
The commission will have the power to summon witnesses. It can recommend possible disciplinary or legal action, and can suggest changes to Cayman Islands law if it determines those are necessary.
A statement issued by the governor’s office indicated the commission would review allegations made by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush that Mr. Clifford took documents pertaining to several government projects, including; the Royal Watler Port, The Turtle Farm expansion, The Boggy Sands project, as well as documents relating to Cayman Airways.
‘The governor has decided that the public interest would be best served by facilitating a full enquiry into the circumstances — regarding the removal of files from the Ministry of Tourism and the disclosure of confidential information,’ the statement read.
Mr. Clifford has said on numerous occasions that he took only personal files from his permanent secretary office upon resigning.
‘I welcome the governor’s decision to appoint a commission of enquiry,’ Mr. Clifford said in a prepared statement. ‘I have to assume that, had he failed to do so, the government would be accused of trying to cover up something. This is an opportunity for yet another enquiry into this matter to settle this issue for a second and final time.’
Claims about the missing Ministry of Tourism files were first investigated following Mr. Bush’s request to former Cayman Islands Governor Bruce Dinwiddy in 2004. Mr. Bush has said that review was less than thorough and was conducted by a close friend of Mr. Clifford’s, Gloria McField-Nixon.
The first report cleared Mr. Clifford of any wrong-doing.
The documents, hard copies of minutes of official meetings and other government information, were given to Cayman Net News, which published several subsequent stories based on their contents. Those stories were published in the run up to the May 2005 elections, and have been blamed by Mr. Bush for playing a role in his United Democratic Party’s defeat in those elections.
The newspaper’s publisher, Desmond Seales, has revealed that Mr. Clifford was the person who supplied the documents to support those articles.
Mr. Clifford ran successfully as a candidate in the Bodden Town district in the 2005 elections, less than a year after he resigned his permanent secretary’s post.
The commission will consider whether there was a breach of any civil service codes of conduct, or if Mr. Clifford’s actions ran afoul of any policies of the boards he served on. It will examine Cayman Islands law relating to handling and possession of government documents and it will also consider whether revelation of those documents would have been determined to be in the public’s interest — in other words, whether Mr. Clifford’s actions could be construed as whistle-blowing.
‘I wouldn’t want this announcement by the government to be misinterpreted so let me say that exposing corruption isn’t wrong and it must be encouraged,’ Mr. Clifford said.
All civil servants in Cayman are required to sign a declaration of secrecy regarding the handling of government information. Government employees are considered to have breached that declaration if they ‘communicate a code word, pass word, sketch, plan, model, article, note, document or information to any person other than a person to whom he is authorised to communicate it.’
The declaration also states the civil servant has breached its duty if they: ‘retain the sketch, plan, model, article, note, or document in his possession or control when he has no right to retain it.’
Mr. Bush has also claimed the Cayman Islands Confidential Relationship Preservation Law was breached by Mr. Clifford’s actions.
‘Justice will prevail,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘The question is: what happens to Mr. Clifford while a commission of enquiry is being conducted? That is the question that I have.’
Mr. Clifford said in his statement that he would not be distracted from his duties in Legislative Assembly or as tourism minister because of the enquiry. He promised to make himself available to the commission once it is appointed.
He expressed surprise that the commission would take ‘such prominence over the more serious police investigations into the UDP’s affordable housing scheme and the Boatswain’s Beach financing arrangement.’ Claims of maladministration have been raised in both of those government projects, which were approved during the previous administration.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has said probes into both matters are continuing.
Mr. Clifford said he would also ask the governor’s commission to look into whether Mr. Bush disclosed minutes of the Turtle Farm board’s meetings recently on a radio show.
No mention is made in the statement from the governor’s office about involving police in the enquiry into the files taken from the Ministry of Tourism. It’s presumed the commission will forward any information of a criminal nature it uncovers to the RCIPS.
The ruling People’s Progressive Movement party officials, including Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts and Education Minister Alden McLaughlin, offered no comment on the governor’s statement when they were contacted by the Compass on Friday.