The Cayman Islands government was forced by the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office to pay for the Commission of Enquiry held here in January.
It’s unclear exactly how much the enquiry cost, but Cabinet ministers have previously estimated its budget at some $250,000.
The commission, which was looking into allegations that files were improperly removed from the Ministry of Tourism in 2004 by the ministry’s then-Permanent Secretary Charles Clifford, sent a report to Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack in mid-March.
Governor Jack could make that report public as early as today.
Government ministers had refused to approve a budget for the enquiry and according to testimony before the UK Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday the FCO was forced to order local government to pay.
‘The Cabinet didn’t really want this to go ahead, they thought it was unnecessary in Cayman,’ said Leigh Turner, director for the UK overseas territories. ‘They declined to fund the Commission of Enquiry. At that point, the Governor (Mr. Jack) consulted the foreign office and said ‘we think it’s very important to hold the Commission of Enquiry, please will you give me instructions to overrule the Cabinet on this issue.”
‘We consulted ministers and we agreed it was an important thing,’ Mr. Turner said. ‘Therefore, the Governor was issued with instructions to overrule the Cayman Islands government on this matter.’
Governor Jack had previously declined to answer questions about how funds for the commission’s work had been appropriated. Questioning before the UK Foreign Affairs Committee also revealed that local funds had been used to support the commission.
A committee member asked whether the UK government should pay for commissions of enquiry in overseas territories when decisions to call those enquiries are disputed.
Legal counsel for the FCO replied that the enquiry held in Cayman in January was considered to be of a local nature, and not an enquiry being made directly by the UK government.
Cabinet ministers have previously argued that such a commission has no authority and have questioned whether the governor’s office has the power to unilaterally order such enquiries without the consent of elected ministers.
An FCO lawyer at Wednesday’s hearing said that laws governing commissions of enquiry in overseas territories are generally local legislation. However, the attorney opined that the governors of those territories are allowed to call enquiries into any subject deemed to be in the public interest.
In Cayman, since one of the subjects of the enquiry was Mr. Clifford, a Cabinet minister, the governor decided to call the enquiry without previously consulting with elected ministers.
‘HE the Governor remains convinced that the commission of enquiry is appropriate, proportionate and has been established in an entirely constitutional and legal manner,’ read a statement issued by Mr. Jack’s office in January.
‘(Acting unilaterally) wouldn’t be the normal way of doing business,’ Mr. Turner said on Wednesday. ‘Usually we try to do things by consensus.’
Caymanian lawmakers have made veiled threats of possible legal action if the commission of enquiry’s final ruling doesn’t support Minister Clifford.
Mr. Clifford has been accused by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush of improperly removing government files just before his resignation from the Ministry of Tourism in 2004 and giving them to the press.
While Mr. Clifford did admit during questioning by the commission that he gave some of those documents to a local newspaper, he has maintained those files were his personal copies that he was within his rights to posses.