Enquiry going public

An enquiry ordered by Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack into files that were taken from the Ministry of Tourism in 2004 will be held in public, at the discretion of the judge in charge of the proceedings.

A commission of enquiry will investigate allegations made by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush that Tourism Minister Charles Clifford improperly took government documents from the Ministry of Tourism upon his resignation as permanent secretary of that ministry in 2004. Mr. Bush has said the documents were related to several projects including; the Royal Watler Port, the Cayman Turtle Farm, the Boggy Sands project, and also contained information about Cayman Airways.

Mr. Clifford has maintained that the files were his personal documents and that he was entitled to remove them.

Mr. Jack had previously said the hearings would be completely closed, but a press release issued Tuesday stated that the governor and Commissioner of Enquiry Sir Richard Tucker had agreed to hold the hearings in public.

The decision still gives Commissioner Tucker the ability to close the hearings at any time he chooses. Government ministers have said that should be done only if there is an overriding national security or public interest concern.

The manner in which the hearings will be made open to the public wasn’t clear at press time, and it was uncertain whether everyone who wished to attend would be able to do so.

The commission will accept written submissions from community members who want to express views on matters covered by the enquiry. Those who are ordered to appear as witnesses will be required to produce written statements and supporting documents.

The hearings are scheduled to begin on 21 January at the commission’s Fort Street office.

Mr. Bush also alleged that Mr. Clifford gave those files to the media, in violation of the civil servant code of conduct. The documents were used as the basis for stories in the Cayman Net News in the run up to the 2005 general elections, and were blamed in part by Mr. Bush for his United Democratic Party losing control of the government.

Mr. Clifford and other ministers from the ruling People’s Progressive Movement party have said the revelation of those documents was at least partly responsible for later findings of maladministration in various aspects of UDP government projects by the Cayman Islands Auditor General.

The commission’s review will also branch out into broader areas including the operations and policies of government boards, the effectiveness of laws governing those entities as well as those that pertain to handling government documents, and whether there should be more protection under the law for whistleblowers — those who reveal wrong-doing within an organisation.

The enquiry will recommend disciplinary action if any wrong-doing is found and will presumably pass along evidence of potential criminal activity to the authorities. It may also suggest changes to laws to protect government documents, and to limit conflicts of interest among civil servants who choose to run for public office after resigning their positions.

The decision to order a commission of enquiry was harshly criticised by both Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts, who referred to the commission as a ‘nuclear weapon,’ and by Education Minister Alden McLaughlin. Mr. Jack’s office has stated the governor is well within his legal rights to appoint the commission without consulting Cabinet.

Mr. Clifford has said he welcomes the commission’s review, and pointed out it is the second time Mr. Bush has made allegations of files being taken from the Ministry of Tourism. The first investigation was ordered by former Cayman Governor Bruce Dinwiddy, conducted by the civil service, and found Mr. Clifford had done nothing wrong.

Mr. Bush has said the first enquiry was directed by a close friend of Mr. Clifford’s, who was the acting permanent secretary of the Tourism Ministry at the time.

Commissioner Tucker is a former long-serving member of the English High Court and has served since 2002 as a commissioner of the Royal Court of Jersey. The other members of the commission of enquiry have not been named publicly.

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