Enquiry: No punishment for Clifford

Tourism Minister Charles Clifford had no right to remove files from his former office in the Ministry of Tourism in 2004, and acted in ‘breach of the continuing duty of confidentiality’ by doing so, according to the findings of a Commission of Enquiry held in Cayman earlier this year.

Mr. Clifford

Mr. Clifford

However, Commissioner Sir Richard Tucker has recommended that no legal or disciplinary action be taken against Mr. Clifford for several reasons.

First, Mr. Tucker’s decision noted that the information Mr. Clifford disclosed to a local newspaper following his resignation as permanent secretary of the ministry in 2004 was of legitimate public interest.

‘It is information of a kind to which the public will have a right of access under the Freedom of Information Law,’ a summary of Commissioner Tucker’s report read.

Second, the most commercially sensitive information contained in the files Mr. Clifford removed, relating to Cayman Airways, was never disclosed to the newspaper.

Finally, information related to the Cayman Turtle Farm and Port Authority, which was confidential, was determined by the commissioner to be ‘known to a large number of people’ and bereft of any commercial sensitivity by the time it was disclosed.

‘The unauthorised disclosure did not cause any damage,’ the report stated.

Mr. Tucker’s review, which followed five days of public testimony in George Town and a closed-door question and answer session with former Cayman Islands Governor Bruce Dinwiddy, found a ‘prima facie breach by Mr. Clifford of the General Orders’ by communicating to the press documents that came into his possession in his official capacity.

However, the report also noted that there were no laws or regulations in existence at the time Mr. Clifford resigned from the ministry that dealt with how civil servants should deal with documents that came into their possession. In other words, no clear advice on whether he could take those documents from his office shortly before resigning.

The commissioner stated it is only his opinion that Mr. Clifford had no right to remove those files in 2004.

‘Greater attention needs to be paid to the question of the security of government documents, by requiring retired officers to surrender them…in order to prevent their disclosure or unauthorised use,’ the report read.

Commissioner Tucker also recommended that the current Declaration of Secrecy all civil servants must sign before taking up employment in Cayman be abolished, because its tenets are already contained within the civil servant code of conduct.

Governor Stuart Jack said in a prepared statement that he intended to follow the commissioner’s recommendations and not take the case against Mr. Clifford any further.

‘Mr. Clifford’s actions were regrettable and not in line with the standards we should expect of public servants,’ Governor Jack said.

Mr. Jack said he also intended to have Cayman Islands Chief Secretary George McCarthy and Attorney General Samuel Bulgin review other recommendations related to governance issues, which were made by the commission. Pick up a copy of Monday’s Caymanian Compass for details.

The decision to order the Commission of Enquiry last year was a controversial one, and has come under harsh criticism by Cabinet ministers who said they were not consulted about the governor’s decisions. Mr. Jack said he did not consult with Cabinet because Mr. Clifford is a member of that body and was one of the subjects of the enquiry.

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 possess.