Commission seeks public input

The Commission of Enquiry looking into the removal of certain files from the Ministry of Tourism in 2004 is asking members of the public for their opinion.

The commission is not seeking advice on the fate of Tourism Minister Charles Clifford, who has been accused of taking those documents while he served as permanent secretary for the Ministry of Tourism.

Rather it wants to gauge public opinion in several areas including: the handling, possession and retention of government documents; protection for government whistle blowers, those who expose wrong-doing; and examine potential conflicts of interest among civil servants who choose to run for elected office shortly after resigning their positions.

All three of those areas pertain to Mr. Clifford’s previous actions in some way, but the commission is clearly seeking to go beyond those actions to address more general governance issues.

Mr. Clifford has maintained that the files he took from the permanent secretary office were his personal records and that he had the legal right to keep those items. Those statements have been disputed by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush who called on Governor Stuart Jack to investigate the matter last year.

Government ministers have previously said that information contained in some of those files led, in part, to the exposure of maladministration by the previous government, which was led by Mr. Bush.

The recent passage of the Freedom of Information Law (2007) creates a provision for the protection of whistleblowers in government. However, that law does not take effect until 2009, and was not in place when the events the commission is investigating occurred.

Mr. Clifford resigned from the Ministry of Tourism and successfully ran for his current office within a year. Mr. Bush has proposed some kind of time limit be placed on when civil servants can seek public office after resigning from their positions.

The commissioner leading the enquiry, former English High Court Judge Sir Richard Tucker, has asked that submissions from the public be emailed to [email protected]; post mailed to the commission of enquiry at PO Box 2255, or hand delivered to the commission of enquiry office on the 2nd floor of the Fort Street Market Building in George Town.

The deadline for those submissions is 17 January.

The commission is set to get under way on 21 January and will open some of its meetings to the public, although it’s unclear whether the start of the proceedings will be conducted openly.

Commission Secretary Colin Ross has said there will be very limited space available in the Fort Street Offices and that cameras and audio recorders will not be allowed in the hearings. He said details are still being worked out about attendance.

The start of the commission of enquiry comes just one working day before the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly resumes meeting on Friday, 18 January.

Mr. Ross said any lawmakers who are required to give testimony before the commission will be notified of the date they are to appear. It is presumed that both Mr. Clifford and Mr. Bush will be asked to appear before the commission.