Calling the United Democratic Party’s request for Tourism Minister Charles Clifford to step down ‘mere political posturing,’ Cabinet ministers today supported Mr. Clifford and said he would remain in office while a commission of enquiry is conducted into whether he removed and disclosed confidential files from the Ministry of Tourism.
‘Minister Clifford has done nothing illegal or unlawful and has absolutely nothing to hide,’ Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said at a Thursday morning press briefing.
While Mr. Clifford has previously said he welcomes the commission of enquiry’s review, both Mr. Tibbetts and Education Minister Alden McLaughlin questioned the need for the commission and were clearly angered by the fact that it was formed without the consent of elected ministers.
‘Aside from being an overreaction given the history and nature of the allegations, the circumstances surrounding the decision to appoint a commission of enquiry raises serious procedural, legal and constitutional issues for this country, which go well beyond Minister Clifford,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.
Mr. McLaughlin added that the ministers weren’t necessarily questioning Governor Stuart Jack’s right to call the commission to look into the matter. Rather, he said they should have been consulted about it before the decision was announced.
The ministers said they were not told about the governor’s decision until the afternoon of Friday, 9 November. They said that notification only occurred after a press release had been issued and Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush was informed
Mr. Tibbetts said the People’s Progressive Movement government would seek the advice of a constitutional attorney and reviewing what action it should take, if any, in regard to the governor’s decision to call the commission.
The government said allegations against Mr. Clifford should be investigated within the laws governing the civil service and not by a commission of enquiry. The ministers also argued that there was no real dispute of the facts in this case. Minister Clifford has not denied that he disclosed information contained in minutes of Turtle Farm and Port Authority board meetings.
‘It does not require the nuclear weapon of a commission of enquiry to establish these facts,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘What is required is merely a determination as to whether Minister Clifford was entitled to disclose those facts.’
Ministers also argued that any proceedings before the commission should be held in public and not behind closed doors as the governor has ordered.
The statements made at Thursday’s Cabinet press briefing were just the latest in a round of verbal salvos this week in the wake of the announcement about the commission formed to look into allegations surrounding files, which were allegedly taken from the Ministry of Tourism and given to a local newspaper.
The opposition United Democratic Party on Wednesday called for Tourism Minister Charles Clifford’s immediate resignation.
Mr. Clifford has been revealed as the source of several stories which appeared in the Cayman Net News in the run up to the May 2005 elections. The paper’s publisher has said Mr. Clifford gave copies of minutes of meetings and other government documents to the Net News, which the publication used to support those stories.
Mr. Clifford has said many times that the files were personal documents.
‘With a commission of enquiry being appointed to investigate whether he violated the civil service regulations and Confidential Relationships (Preservation) Law, the honourable thing for any sitting minister of a government to do is resign,’ a statement from the UDP read.
Minister Clifford has previously said, and confirmed today, that he would not resign.
The UDP statement urged government ministers to insist that Mr. Clifford resign if he refused to do so.
‘For him to assert that he would not be distracted from his duties as tourism minister is utter rubbish and total nonsense,’ the UDP statement read.
Meanwhile, Mr. Clifford sent a formal request to Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack on Tuesday asking that he expand the role of the commission of enquiry to look into the public disclosure of the minutes of Turtle Farm Board of Directors meetings on two occasions by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush.
Mr. Clifford said Mr. Bush had openly disclosed those documents on a local radio talk show in July, and later this year in the Legislative Assembly.
‘The Leader of the Opposition’s primary complaint is that I disclosed minutes of board meetings,’ Mr. Clifford said.
The tourism minister had previously expressed surprise that ‘this matter would take such prominence over the more serious police…investigations into the UDP’s affordable housing scheme and the Boatswain’s Beach financing arrangements.’
Both Mr. Clifford and Mr. Bush were members of the Turtle Farm Board of Directors when it approved a financing agreement that Auditor General Dan Duguay said amounted to a ‘wanton disregard’ of the use of public funds. The AG’s office has referred its information to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service for further investigation.
The RCIPS has been investigating an affordable housing initiative, which was approved by the National Housing and Community Development Trust at the time when it was chaired by former UDP Minister Dr. Frank McField. That police investigation of the housing scheme has been on going for more than two years with no conclusion.