Minister, publisher answer questions

Tourism Minister Charles Clifford’s attorneys told a commission of enquiry Monday that the minister had nothing to hide in making a decision to take certain government documents with him upon his resignation from the civil service in 2004.

Sir Richard Tucker

Commissioner Sir Richard Tucker arrives to hear statements in the commission of enquiry. Escorting him is Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Constable Ellis Cottrell.
Photo: Brent Fuller

The revelation of those documents to a local newspaper was partly blamed by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush for his United Democratic Party losing the May 2005 elections. Mr. Bush subsequently filed complaints to the governor’s office which led to the establishment of the commission to look into whether Mr. Clifford broke civil service rules, and possibly the law, in taking and releasing those records.

‘The documents and subject matter were already in the public domain, so those documents were not confidential,’ said Mr. Terence Mowchenson, representing Mr. Clifford at the hearing. ‘The issues he sought to raise…were matters of public interest.’

The commission of enquiry called by Governor Stuart Jack to look into whether government documents were improperly released from the Ministry of Tourism in 2004 also spent its first day focusing on the man to whom those records were allegedly given.

Cayman Net News publisher Desmond Seales told Commissioner Sir Richard Tucker that he met with former ministry permanent secretary Charles Clifford and former opposition MLA Alden McLaughlin ‘on a number of occasions’ to discuss allegations against the former United Democratic Party government.

Mr. Seales testified that Mr. Clifford personally delivered hard copies of documents to the offices of the Net News, and that Mr. Clifford sought out the publisher of the paper in doing so without any previous requests from the Net News. He did not specifically state how many occasions he had met with Mr. Clifford and Mr. McLaughlin, who is now the Education Minister.

‘There have been many occasions, and they were mainly after normal business hours,’ Mr. Seales said.

Mr. Seales said Mr. Clifford allowed him to make copies of some documents, and said there were other records which were reviewed by the publisher and returned to Mr. Clifford.

There was no indication given in Mr. Seales’ testimony that Mr. McLaughlin ever provided government documents to the newspaper.

Mr. Mowschenson questioned Mr. Seales about his decision in October 2007 to publicly reveal Mr. Clifford as the source of his information for a series of articles the Net News ran in the run up to the May 2005 elections. He asked whether Mr. Seales held Mr. Clifford responsible for Cayman Airways’ decision to stop delivering copies of the Net News to Grand Cayman last year.

Mr. Seales said Mr. Clifford broke whatever arrangement the two had when he ‘went into the house of assembly, under his immunity privilege, and decided to castigate myself and this newspaper.’

‘I had no obligation to maintain confidentiality,’ Mr. Seales said.

Mr. Mowschenson opined that most journalists consider the confidentiality of a source to be a key component of their profession, at which point Mr. Tucker intervened.

‘Is this relevant?’ he asked.

‘It goes to the type of person Mr. Seales is,’ Mr. Mowschenson said.

The commission of enquiry’s legal advisor, Mr. Andrew Jones, then asked whether Mr. Clifford specifically asked Mr. Seales to keep his information confidential.

Mr. Seales replied that he didn’t consider it to be so because much of the information contained in those documents had already been made public.

Other witnesses

The commission was expected to wrap up Mr. Seales’ testimony on Monday, and begin questioning Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush today.

However, Mr. Bush’s attorney, Mr. Anthony Akiwumi, said his client had just been given a lengthy statement which Mr. Clifford had presented to the enquiry on Monday and hadn’t gotten a chance to review it. Also, Mr. Akiwumi stated that he would be off island from Tuesday through Friday of this week, and would be unable to represent Mr. Bush on those days.

‘We shall proceed with the enquiry, and I hope your client will find another attorney,’ Mr. Tucker told Mr. Akiwumi.

Mr. Akiwumi also raised the issue of whether others besides Mr. Bush, Mr. Seales and Mr. Clifford would need to testify in the enquiry; including employees at the Ministry of Tourism, Mr. McLaughlin and former employees of Net News.

He did not specifically state who might be called, but Commissioner Tucker left open the possibility that other witnesses could be brought in.