2007 top stories: Big intrigue over missing ministry files

It’s not often that something that happened years beforehand makes the news and then stays in the news for a long time, but that is exactly what happened with regard to Tourism Minister Charles Clifford and the case of the missing files.

Mr. Clifford, who served as the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Tourism under former Leader of Government Business and Minister of Tourism McKeeva Bush, resigned from the civil service in July 2004.

I was later alleged Mr. Clifford took confidential government files with him when he resigned.

Mr. Clifford announced less than a month later that he would run for public office. He won one of the seats in Bodden Town during the subsequent election and then succeeded Mr. Bush as Minister of Tourism. Mr. Bush complained to Chief Secretary George McCarthy about Mr. Clifford’s taking of the files.

During debate on a Private Member’s Motion brought by Mr. Bush in Legislative Assembly in September which sought, among other things, to prohibit civil servants like permanent secretary from running in a general election for a least one year after leaving their post, the issue of the missing files came up again.

Mr. Bush claimed Mr. Clifford not only took files containing confidential government information, but that he used it and changed it to damage Mr. Bush’s reputation during the election campaign.

When Mr. Clifford made his contribution to the debate, he revealed that he had asked former Governor Bruce Dinwiddy to investigate the matter of the missing files when he heard some of the allegation being made after his resignation from the civil service.

Mr. Dinwiddy’s investigation concluded that the allegations made by Mr. Bush were false and that no files were missing from the ministry, Mr. Clifford said.

A letter from Mr. Dinwiddy produced by Mr. Clifford date 5 February 2005 confirmed what Mr. Clifford had claimed with regard to that initial investigation, but it also revealed that the acting permanent secretary, Gloria McField-Nixon conducted the internal inquiry into the matter.

Mr. Bush later complained to current Governor Stuart Jack that Mrs. McField-Nixon was a very close friend of Mr. Clifford’s.

Mr. Clifford has not denied taking files from the Ministry when he left civil service, but he maintains they were copies of minutes of board meetings he attended as a member and that he was entitled to maintain copies.

However, Cayman Net News publisher Desmond Seales revealed in his own newspaper on 26 September that Mr. Clifford provided hard copies of minutes and other documents which formed the basis of a series of unflattering stories about Mr. Bush and the United Democratic Party leading up to the 2005 General Elections.

Based Mr. Seales’ statement and the revelation of other documents, including an affidavit signed by a former Ministry of Tourism staff member, in late September Mr. Bush asked Governor Jack to reopen the investigation.

The Governor’s office did not respond immediately to the request, other than to say the Governor was considering it. In late October, the Governor’s office said it was seeking legal advice on the matter.

The UDP called for Mr. Clifford’s resignation, but the minister said he would not do so because he had no reason to do so.

On 9 November, the Governor’s office announced a commission of enquiry into the matter.

The People’s Progressive Movement expressed their support for Mr. Clifford and their anger that the Governor had ordered the enquiry without consulting with the Cabinet.

The Cabinet members were also upset that the enquiry will be held behind closed doors.

Two weeks later, the Governor announced the enquiry would be conducted by former justice of the English High Court, Sir Richard Tucker, who was expected to arrive in thee Cayman Islands in early December.