Clifford: Minutes confidential

Commission of Enquiry

Cabinet Minister Charles Clifford admitted during the Commission of Enquiry proceedings on Wednesday that minutes of board meetings he gave to the media would under ordinary circumstances be considered confidential.

However, because of decisions made by the boards the minutes referred to, Mr. Clifford said he had sufficient reason to make the documents public.

‘I believe the public needed to know there were serious irregularities,’ he said.

Commission legal advisor Andrew Jones asked Mr. Clifford if he thought the minutes had been in the public domain prior to his giving them to Mr. Seales, and he agreed that they had not been.

Mr. Jones also asked Mr. Clifford if, after he had retained his copies of the minutes, he thought he was entitled to reveal them to anyone he chose.

Mr. Clifford agreed that normally minutes of government board meetings and supporting documents would be retained for use only in the interests of the corresponding government board.

‘Do you agree the documents were confidential,’ Mr. Jones asked.

‘I think they were at the time,’ Mr. Clifford responded, adding, however, that he felt he had good reasons to do so in the public interest.

Mr. Clifford has previously acknowledged taking copies of the board minutes of the Cayman Turtle Farm (1983) and the Port Authority when he resigned his permanent secretary civil service post in July 2004. He maintained that as a director of those entities, he was entitled to retain his copies of those minutes.

In the months leading up to the 2005 general elections, after Mr. Clifford had declared himself a People’s Progressive Movement candidate for the district of Bodden Town, Cayman Net News ran articles critical of decisions made with respect to matters concerning the Turtle Farm/Boatswain’s Beach project and the Port Authority.

The articles made mention of documents obtained by Cayman Net News with relation to the Turtle Farm project refinancing arrangement and to Port Authority board meetings.

The thrust of the article about the Turtle Farm had to do with a large fee paid to a middleman company that acted to facilitate a loan arrangement, which was subsequently squashed by the government. The Port Authority story dealt with payment of more than triple the appraised value for a piece of land government purchased for the development of a cruise tender dock in West Bay.

Both articles reflected poorly on then-Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush, under whom Mr. Clifford had served as permanent secretary.

Mr. Bush has long alleged Mr. Clifford was the source of the information contained in the Cayman Net News articles, and in September 2007, the publisher of that newspaper, Desmond Seales, revealed Mr. Clifford as the source.

Until the Commission of Enquiry, however, Mr. Clifford had never publicly admitted he gave any documents to Mr. Seales, although he had acknowledged raising the Turtle Farm and Port Authority issues publicly during the 2005 election campaign.

Mr. Bush’s attorney during the Commission of Enquiry, Anthony Akiwumi, has suggested Mr. Clifford did not have the public interest in mind when giving Cayman Net News copies of the board meeting minutes, claiming he did so only to smear Mr. Bush and thus help his chances at getting elected.

The issue of Mr. Clifford’s timing in going to Cayman Net News was probed by Mr. Jones.

Mr. Clifford had previously stated that he decided to give the minutes to Cayman Net News only after he had tried to get Governor Dinwiddy to investigate or intervene in the matters, Mr. Clifford said.

‘The governor was not prepared to do anything about it because he said it was the minister’s policy and he couldn’t do anything about that.’

Mr. Clifford said he had separate discussions with the governor about the Port Authority and Turtle Farm matters while he was still Mr. Bush’s permanent secretary.

Mr. Jones asked if Mr. Clifford if he had provided Mr. Dinwiddy with the same copies of the minutes he later provided to Cayman Net News to back up his complaints. Mr. Clifford responded that he wasn’t sure if he had provided Mr. Dinwiddy with any supporting documentation, but that even if he had not, Mr. Dinwiddy could have asked for them.

The timing of when Mr. Clifford went to Cayman Net News also came up. In his statement, Mr. Clifford said he met with Mr. Seales between February 2005 and April 2005.

‘Why didn’t you go to see Mr. Seales either immediately before leaving office or immediately afterward,’ Mr. Jones asked.

Mr. Clifford responded that it wouldn’t have been appropriate for him to go to the media while he still was a civil servant and that afterwards he was focused on doing his law articles to become an attorney.

‘I had completed my degree and all I had left was to do my articles.’

After the May 2005 elections and Mr. Clifford’s rise to a Cabinet Minister, Mr. Clifford wrote to Governor Dinwiddy in July of that year about four Port Authority decisions made by Mr. Bush, which he termed ‘irregularities’. Mr. Clifford asked the governor to request the auditor general investigate the matters, which he claimed were ‘bad governance at best, but more than likely corruption’.

Mr. Jones queried why Mr. Clifford had waited until July 2005 to put in writing his concerns to the governor.

‘Perhaps it might have been better if this memorandum was sent to the governor a year earlier,’ he said.

Mr. Clifford was also asked why he had not consulted with the auditor general himself about the matters, which concerned him while he was still a civil servant.

‘If I had expressed my concern to the auditor general, it would have led to an audit and the auditor general would have indicated what prompted the audit,’ he said, adding that if it had been discovered he was the one who had made the complaint it would not have been good for his relationship with Minister Bush.

Mr. Jones pointed out that had he simply provided the governor with the copies of the board meeting minutes, his identity need not have been known because the minutes could have come from any one of the board members.

Ultimately, the auditor general’s office conducted an audit on the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal Project and wrote a highly critical report that concluded government did not get good value for money. However, the auditor general’s office stated that audit had been planned from early 2004, that it was listed as an output in the 2004/05 budget, and that it hadn’t been initiated by the governor.

To date, the auditor general has not announced any intentions of conducting audits on the other three Port Authority matters, although the Commission of Enquiry appeared confused on that point.