Today’s Editorial January 25: Rules for whistleblowers

Was Minister Charles Clifford acting in the public’s best interest?

That’s one of the key determinations of the Commission of Enquiry into Mr. Clifford’s giving of confidential government documents to Cayman Net News while he was a civil servant.

Mr. Clifford has stated that he had become concerned about ‘serious irregularities’ with regard to decision made by the boards of Cayman Turtle Farm (1983) Limited and the Port Authority. He has also stated that he went to former Governor Bruce Dinwiddy with his concerns, but that Mr. Dinwiddy declined to investigate the matters.

In the end, Mr. Clifford went to Net News with copies of the board meeting minutes, but asked for the source of the minutes to be anonymous.

Although Mr. Clifford admits the documents were confidential at the time he retained the copies after his resignation from civil service, he basically asserts that he was entitled to give them to the media because the public’s need to know outweighed the confidentiality of the documents.

In other words, Mr. Clifford wants the protection of a whistleblower.

On the other hand, the Opposition does not believe Mr. Clifford gave the documents to Net News because of any great concern for the public interest, but rather for his own personal interests. Indeed, he gave the documents to Desmond Seales in the midst of an election campaign in which he was a candidate.

Questions have been put to Mr. Clifford why he didn’t try other avenues to express his concerns, and he has offered explanations. Whether those explanations are deemed credible is a matter for the Commission of Enquiry.

Regardless, there is a broader question to consider, namely, what are the rules for whistleblowers.

On the matter concerning the Boatswain’s Beach refinancing, Mr. Clifford’s concerns appear to have been validated by the auditor general’s report into the matter and the subsequent RCIPS ‘fact finding mission’.

But with the situation concerning the Port Authority regarding the purchase of a piece of property at a price nearly three times its appraised value, there is no auditor general’s report on the matter, no RCIPS investigation, and no further actions taken concerning it at all.

The records in fact seem to indicate the matter was a difference of opinion between Mr. Clifford and former Minister of Tourism McKeeva Bush and the rest of the Port Authority Board. Even if Mr. Clifford was right in his concerns, it seems the most Mr. Bush and the board could be accused of is making a poor decision that cost the country some money.

Does a difference of opinion or a poor decision entitle a civil servant to blow the whistle? If that’s the case, the din from all the whistles blowing from civil service halls in the Cayman Islands could become deafening.

And civil service confidentiality rules would basically become worthless.