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 do, according to the findings of a Commission of Enquiry held in Cayman earlier this year.
However, Enquiry Commissioner Sir Richard Tucker has recommended that no legal or disciplinary action be taken against Mr. Clifford.
Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack agreed not to take the matter any further, although he was critical of Minister Clifford in a written statement released Friday.
“Mr. Clifford’s actions were regrettable and not in line with the standards we should expect of public servants,” Governor Jack said.
The Tourism Minister fired back at the Governor in a written statement sent
to the Caymanian Compass on Saturday.
“The Governor cannot take any further action against me because there is no action that can be taken,” Mr. Clifford said. “If I had really done something wrong, the Commissioner would have recommended further action and
this Governor would have been only too happy to take further action because, as has been the case with (Opposition Leader) McKeeva Bush, I have also had to stand firm with this Governor on several issues and like McKeeva Bush he
considers me a person he would rather not have to face.”??
Mr. Clifford said the report and the recommendations it makes would not affect his position as Tourism Minister or his role in the Legislative Assembly.
“(The Governor’s decision and the commission’s recommendations) are of no
consequence to me,” he said.
The decision to order the Commission of Enquiry last year was a controversial one, and has come under harsh criticism by Cabinet ministers who were not consulted about it. 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 and giving them to the press just before his resignation from the Ministry of Tourism in 2004.
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.
Mr. Tucker’s decision noted three general reasons as to why the commission did not seek further action against Mr. Clifford.
First, the commission’s report noted information Mr. Clifford disclosed to a local newspaper following his resignation 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,” 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 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 disclosure caused no damage to the Turtle Farm, or the Port Authority, or government,” the report read. In spite of that, the report stated the records should have been considered confidential at the time Mr. Clifford took them from the ministry.
Although the report found information disclosed by Mr. Clifford to be of public interest, the commission did not consider him to be a whistle-blower.
“The evidence tends to suggest that Mr. Clifford acted for personal, political purposes rather than for altruistic reasons,” states one conclusion made by the commission.
Mr. Tucker’s review, which followed five days of public testimony in George Town and closed-door question and answer sessions with former Governor Bruce Dinwiddy as well as some members of the Cayman Islands civil service, 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.
Mr. Clifford disagrees.
“I was no longer a civil servant at that point and my considered view is that General Orders no longer had any application to me,” he said.
The commission rejected that argument outright.
However, it did note there were no clear regulations in existence when Mr.
Clifford resigned from the ministry in 2004 which dealt with how civil servants should handle documents that came into their possession. In other words, no clear advice existed on whether he could take those documents from his office shortly before resigning.
Commissioner Tucker points out that when the matter was first reviewed by then-acting Tourism Ministry Permanent Secretary Gloria McField-Nixon, it was generally accepted if civil servants did take government documents prior to leaving their jobs.
“(Mrs. McField-Nixon) did not regard copies of minutes as government property and she did not expect them to be destroyed or left behind,”
Commissioner Tucker’s report noted. “She would expect to take what she regarded as her personal copies. The former governor apparently saw nothing
remarkable in this. I regard this approach to be mistaken and wrong.”
“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.