Commission of enquiry begins

A commission of enquiry ordered by Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack begins its work this morning in determining whether Tourism Minister Charles Clifford broke civil service rules, and potentially the law, in taking government documents and revealing them to the press.

Mr. Clifford has not denied removing copies of certain records from his former office as the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Tourism upon his resignation from that post in 2004. He has maintained the files were his and that he was within his rights to have them.

Those files included information about several government projects including the Royal Watler Port, the Turtle Farm expansion, the Boggy Sands project and records relating to Cayman Airways.

Newspaper publisher Desmond Seales revealed last year that those files were the source of several stories his paper printed in the run up to the May 2005 general election. Mr. Seales has said Mr. Clifford was the person who gave the newspaper those documents.

Mr. Clifford has not confirmed or denied Mr. Seales’ claims.

However, during a Cabinet press briefing Thursday, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts made the following statement while speaking about the Cayman Islands newly enacted Freedom of Information Law and protections it contains for government employees who report wrong-doing:

‘Mr. Clifford has said that his first step (in 2004, before taking his information public) was to inform Governor (Bruce) Dinwiddy of his concerns. It was only when that seemed to have no effect that Mr. Clifford resorted to the public platform and the press.’

Mr. Tibbetts and Mr. Clifford were questioned at the press briefing about whether that statement amounted to a public admission that Mr. Clifford had in fact given government files to the press.

‘He has never denied that — that he did that,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.

Mr. Clifford gave an example of a topic he disclosed during a public meeting held before the May 2005 elections.

‘When I spoke about the whole issue of the UDP (United Democratic Party) administration attempts to sell Cayman Airways to Air Jamaica. That was said on the public platform at a meeting in Newlands, and it was covered,’ he said.

The Tourism Minister has said revelation of the documents has led, at least in part, to findings of maladministration against the former UDP government by the auditor general.

Former Leader of the Government Business and current Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush has said Mr. Clifford only made those statements and revealed those records to win an election.

It was Mr. Bush who initially complained to Governor Jack about Mr. Clifford’s actions, which he said violated secrecy rules for civil servants, and possibly the law.

Mr. Clifford has said those allegations were an attempt to cover up the findings of maladministration against Mr. Bush’s government which, in two cases, have led to police investigations.

The commission of enquiry, led by former English High Court Judge Sir Richard Tucker, is scheduled to begin meeting at 10am. Government organisers said one representative from each Cayman Islands media house will be allowed into the proceedings.

The press must arrive by 9.45am. Any seats not filled by then will go to members of the public. The commission of enquiry office is in a second floor office above Fort Street Market.