Enquiry report is due next month

The English judge leading a commission of enquiry into allegations of government files being taken from the Ministry of Tourism said he expects to send a completed report to Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack on 14 March.

Sir Richard Tucker is expected to determine whether any civil service rules were broken when former ministry permanent secretary and current Tourism Minister Charles Clifford took those files and gave some of them to a local newspaper. Any findings of lawbreaking would be reported to police, according to Sir Richard.

The commission is also expected to make recommendations on governance issues including; the protection of government documents, the protection of those who report wrong-doing within the civil service, and the extensions of prohibitions on when civil servants who quit their jobs can seek elected office.

What was unclear throughout the process was the potential punishment Mr. Clifford could face if the commission finds he did break with civil service declaration of secrecy requirements in releasing the documents. According to the Public Service Management Law, he could face fines.

The law also states a civil servant can be fired for revealing confidential documents, but Minister Clifford left his permanent secretary position in 2004 and is no longer a member of the civil service.

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who first made public allegations about the ministry files going missing, has also said Mr. Clifford’s actions potentially violated the law. But the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has never investigated any such allegation.

Mr. Bush’s claims were first reviewed at the behest of former Governor Bruce Dinwiddy, who was questioned in secret by the commission. That review, conducted by civil servant Gloria McField-Nixon in 2005 found no wrong-doing on the part of Mr. Clifford.

Mr. Bush has previously questioned the validity of that investigation. He has also said it was not known at the time that it was Mr. Clifford who had given government documents to a local newspaper.

That revelation was made late last year by Cayman Net News publisher Desmond Seales, who revealed Mr. Clifford and the documents he provided as the source for several stories printed in the run up to the May 2005 elections.

Mr. Bush has blamed those stories at least in part for his United Democratic Party losing power in those elections.

Depending on the commission’s recommendations, it is possible that opposition party members could move for a vote of no confidence against the minister.

Members of the ruling People’s Progressive Movement party, of which Mr. Clifford is a member, have also hinted at the possibility that legal action could be taken if PPM ministers don’t see the desired results.

Four of the five elected Cabinet ministers sent a submission letter to the commission last month setting out a number of reasons in which the ministers believe Governor Jack or the commission itself erred. Mr. Clifford was the only elected minister not to sign that letter.

Commission Secretary Colin Ross said the ministers’ submission was one of 26 written letters and e-mails received by the commission, which was seeking public input into various Cayman Islands governance issues. Mr. Ross said about a dozen phone calls were received from people making suggestions on that topic, but who did not want to be identified.