Mac on hot seat

A commission of enquiry looking into whether government files were improperly taken from the Ministry of Tourism back in 2004 started its second day with Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush on the witness stand.

Mr. Bush was grilled by attorneys for Tourism Minister Charles Clifford, who Mr. Bush has accused of taking what he said were confidential government files and revealing them to the press.

Mr. Clifford, the former permanent secretary for the ministry, has maintained those files were his personal records and that he was entitled to have them.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Bush argued that there was a distinction between general files belonging to the ministry, and files Mr. Clifford kept in his permanent secretary office.

Mr. Bush said he agreed Mr. Clifford did not take the general files, but he said the documents in the permanent secretary office had been ‘wiped’ from Mr. Clifford’s computer on a Saturday night just before his resignation took effect.

He said information in those files later appeared in the local press.

Mr. Terence Mowschenson, representing Mr. Clifford, attempted to turn the tables on the former Leader of Government Business.

‘When you left office after (the May 2005) election, did you remove you own personal files?’ Mr. Mowschenson asked Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush said his staff picked up some personal files, periodicals, magazines and the like. But he told the commission of enquiry that he couldn’t recall keeping any complete minutes, or records, of meetings.

‘How was it in (July 2007) that you managed to read out minutes of a (Turtle Farm) board meeting?’ Mr. Mowschenson asked.

Mr. Bush replied he got the minutes from a former member of the board and revealed them only to show that Mr. Clifford, who was also on the board, had moved a resolution supporting a financing arrangement for the project.

That financial arrangement later came under heavy criticism by the Cayman Islands Auditor General’s office as a ‘wanton disregard’ of public funds.

Mr. Mowschenson asked whether board members, other than Mr. Clifford, were allowed to keep minutes of meetings.

‘They were not civil servants,’ Mr. Bush replied.

Mr. Clifford has been accused by Mr. Bush of violating civil service regulations, and possibly the law, by revealing certain records relating to the Turtle Farm expansion, the Royal Watler Port, the Boggy Sands project, and Cayman Airways to the press in the run up to the May 2005 elections.

Stories carried in the media were blamed by Mr. Bush, in part, for his United Democratic Party government losing its majority in the Legislative Assembly.

Mr. Bush’s attorney, Mr. Anthony Akiwumi, argued vehemently against the auditor general’s report being included in the commission’s proceedings, stating that report had no direct connection to whether Mr. Clifford improperly revealed government documents.

‘It goes well beyond the items of reference of what this enquiry are,’ Mr. Akiwumi said. ‘It doesn’t appear there is any dispute that documents were in fact taken by Mr. Clifford, the only question is if those documents fell into the ambit of what could be considered confidential.’

Mr. Akiwumi said he might have to call Auditor General Dan Duguay in to testify before the commission if the report was referenced by Mr. Clifford’s lawyers.

Mr. Mowschenson said the report was relevant to the proceedings because it showed Mr. Clifford had a genuine concern about some of the activities of Mr. Bush, the former tourism minister and Leader of Government Business.

Commissioner of the Enquiry Sir Richard Tucker eventually agreed that the auditor general’s report would not be taken into consideration.

Attorneys for Mr. Clifford had previously argued that, even if their client did take government records and reveal them to the press, he was protected under common law as a whistleblower.

However, Mr. Bush’s lawyers said there was no whistleblower protection for government employees at the time Mr. Clifford took the files, and that he had ulterior motives in releasing the documents anyway.