Enquiry ‘a grave concern’

Governor’s decision sets off constitutional debate

Top officials in the ruling People’s Progressive Movement party have harshly criticised Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack’s decision to order a commission of enquiry to investigate the release of documents from the Ministry of Tourism in 2004; records which the opposition party claims were confidential.

Mr. Tibbetts

Mr. Tibbetts

‘It is clear to me – that the governor had no authority to decide to appoint a commission without, at a minimum, consultation with Cabinet,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said during a Cabinet press briefing.

Friday afternoon, the governor’s office fired back.

‘The Commission of Enquiry Law (1997 Revision) does not require the governor to consult with Cabinet before appointing a commission of enquiry,’ Head of the Governor’s Office Simon Tonge wrote in a statement. ‘While the governor always endeavours to consult Cabinet wherever possible, it would not have been appropriate to do so in this case given that one of the subjects of the enquiry is a Cabinet member.’

‘The governor also wishes to emphasise that the terms of reference for the commission are deliberately wider than any specific allegations because these types of allegations raise broader questions about the laws and regulations concerning the conduct of all board members, civil servants and ministers.’

PPM leaders said they were not questioning whether the final decision to order such an enquiry lay with Mr. Jack. Instead, they expressed concern that the process for ordering such a step was apparently disregarded.

‘The governor can act against the advice of Cabinet, but where that is done he requires approval – within the Foreign Commonwealth Office,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘In this particular instance, we weren’t even told what it was he was about to do.’

On Friday afternoon, 9 November, Mr. Jack’s office issued a press release announcing the enquiry. Ministers said they weren’t officially informed about the decision until Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

‘We need to address these issues decisively if we are to preserve the rule of law and integrity of our constitutional form of government,’ said Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts, who added he was informally told about the commission of enquiry Friday after the press release had been sent.

Tourism Minister Charles Clifford is the principle subject of the commission’s investigation. He has been accused of taking various government files and releasing them to a Cayman Net News. The publisher of that newspaper has said that Mr. Clifford provided those documents, which were the basis for several stories printed by the paper in the run up to the May 2005 elections.

Mr. Clifford did not confirm or deny last week whether he had given documents to the newspaper. However, he has said on many occasions that those records were his personal files, which he had the right to disclose.

‘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.’

Mr. Tibbetts said the decision to appoint the commission raises serious procedural, legal and constitutional issues for Cayman.

The ministers also criticised the governor’s decision to hold hearings of the commission behind closed doors, since there are no overriding national security or public interest concerns.

Mr. Tibbetts pointed out that Mr. Clifford, in part, is responsible for disclosing the information that led the Auditor General to findings of maladministration in several projects during the previous government’s time in office. Police enquiries into two of those matters, the debt financing of the Boatswain’s Beach expansion and the Affordable Housing Initiative, are continuing.

‘It cannot be right that there are no criminal charges brought or commission of enquiry appointed in respect of the far more serious findings by the Auditor General of misconduct and possible corruption by the (United Democratic Party) and the Leader of the Opposition,’ he said. ‘Yet the person who is supposed to have been at least in part responsible for exposing this misconduct and possible corruption is being made the subject of a commission of enquiry.’

‘I remain very confident that the majority of the Caymanian people — will not be led by the Leader of the Opposition into believing that exposing corruption is worse than the corruption itself,’ Mr. Clifford said.

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush has said Mr. Clifford’s political ambitions led him to reveal confidential government documents, which included records pertaining to the Royal Watler Port, the Turtle Farm expansion, the Boggy Sands project and information related to Cayman Airways.

Mr. Bush also pointed out that no criminal wrong-doing has been found in either of the cases referenced by Mr. Tibbetts.

The United Democratic Party has demanded Mr. Clifford’s resignation, and has urged his fellow ministers to force him to resign if he does not do so on his own.

Mr. Tibbetts has called such demands ‘mere political posturing.’

UDP member and West Bay MLA Cline Glidden Jr. said Mr. Clifford should resign because Turtle Farm staff is directly or indirectly under the Tourism Minister’s control. Mr. Glidden said this could lead to the perception that Mr. Clifford could affect investigations related to Turtle Farm enquiries.

‘The fact that Mr. Clifford is under investigation by a commission of enquiry will make it impossible for him to properly carry out his duties,’ read a statement issued by the UDP last week.

Mr. Clifford has previously denied that his responsibilities would be affected by the commission of enquiry, and said he welcomed the opportunity to review the facts of the case a second time.

The matter was investigated once before when former Governor Bruce Dinwiddy ordered a civil service review. However, Mr. Bush has claimed that review was led by a close friend of Mr. Clifford’s, who was the acting permanent secretary of the Tourism Ministry at the time.

PPM leaders said that first review had found no wrong-doing on Mr. Clifford’s part.

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