$766K budgeted for ex-civil servant

The Finance Committee approved a supplemental appropriation for CI$766,345 for the settlement of a court order relating to the case of former civil servant Astley McLaughlin.

The funds represent compensation for what the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal found to be an unlawful dismissal from a senior government position in April 1999. The case was ultimately decided by the UK Privy Council in July of this year.

Because of the Privy Council’s ruling, Chief Secretary George McCarthy said the government had an obligation to pay salary due to Mr. McLaughlin going back to April 1999.

‘[The obligation to pay] will continue until he either resigns from office or his tenure comes to an end.’

Mr. McCarthy said Mr. McLaughlin, who was a scientist, had held a variety of different government posts. His post with the Ministry of Agriculture, Environment, Communications and Works was abolished in December 1998. The government tried to reassign Mr. McLaughlin, but there was not another suitable post available, Mr. McCarthy said.

The governor, acting on the advice of the Public Service Commission, approved Mr. McLaughlin’s mandatory retirement effective 1 April 1999, but three months’ salary in lieu of notice was given and he ceased work on 31 December, 1998.

Although the governor was empowered to dismiss Mr. McLaughlin as a person holding public office under a section of the Constitution of the Cayman Islands, the conditions of service for government workers were regulated by General Orders.

The General Orders provided that Mr. McLaughlin should have been able to make representations to be passed to the Public Service Commission in the event his position was abolished. He was not allowed that opportunity and it caused a breach of the rules of natural justice in the matter.

During the various appeals to the case, the government tried to assert that although Mr. McLaughlin’s termination was unlawful, it did in fact terminate his employment with the government and he was therefore only due damages for the unlawful dismissal.

However, the Privy Council found that Mr. McLaughlin’s tenure with the civil service had not ended because the termination was unlawful and he was therefore entitled to back pay and pension contributions from 1 April, 1999.

After the Privy Council’s decision, the matter was sent back to Grand Court for the computation of what was due to Mr. McLaughlin.

Mr. McCarthy said CI$354,387 of the budgeted appropriation was for salary and another large portion was for the cost of the various Grand Court, Court of Appeal and Privy Council proceedings. Interest was also covered in the budgeted appropriation.

In addition, the Finance Committee approved a sum of CI$42,527 to cover pension payments that were due with respect to Mr. McLaughlin.

The fact Mr. McLaughlin will continue to be paid by government evoked questions from the Finance Committee. Sister Islands MLA Julianna O’Connor-Conolly wanted to know if another position could be found for Mr. McLaughlin.

Mr. McCarthy said the civil service was trying to find a position for him that was appropriate for his experience and knowledge.

‘We’ve just written around not too long ago to the various ministries, but so far we haven’t had a favourable response,’ he said.

However, Mr. McCarthy said it was likely that a post would come available before the end of the financial year next June.

Speaker of the House and North Side MLA Edna Moyle was more adamant and called for a resolution on the matter.

‘Either put him back in his post or create a new position for him,’ she said. ‘This country is not in a position to pay someone to have a holiday. We must bring this situation to an end.’

Mr. McCarthy noted there was another possible resolution to the situation and that the government was looking into a settlement with Mr. McLaughlin instead of him coming back into the civil service.

‘I can assure the lady member from North Side that efforts are being made.’

Mrs. O’Connor-Conolly asked why the Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts couldn’t use his persuasive powers to have one of the Cabinet ministers hire ‘this very qualified Caymanian instead of spending money that could be better used for the poverty study, education, one of the other ministries, his ministry, and especially the Sister Islands’.

The Finance Committee passed the supplementary appropriation, but Mrs. Moyle stated that she wanted the minutes to reflect that she was voting for appropriation on the condition the matter would have a swift resolution.

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