No word on Enquiry suggestions

More than four months after the Commission of Enquiry issued its report to Governor Stuart Jack, no decisions have been made concerning the many recommendations contained in the report.

‘The Governor is pursuing the recommendations made by the Commission of Enquiry and will be making a public statement in due course,’ the Governor’s Office said in response to questions last week.

In particular, the Caymanian Compass has attempted to ascertain if there will be any restrictions on the ability of senior civil servants to run for political office in the future. The Commission of Enquiry recommended senior civil servants not be allowed to run for political office in the election following their resignation or retirement.

The recent response from the Governor’s Office was almost identical to one it issued on 18 April, when it said ‘The Governor’s Office is now studying the general recommendations made by the Commission of Enquiry and will be following up in due course, but at the moment we have no specific comment on this particular recommendation.’

The next general elections are set for 20 May, 2009, less than 10 months away.

Commissioner of Enquiry Sir Richard Tucker recommended civil servants of the rank of salary scale C or above be ineligible to offer themselves as candidates for the next election after their resignation or retirement, irrespective the amount of time that had elapsed.

That recommendation came shortly after Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush had brought a private member’s motion in Legislative Assembly asking the government to consider imposing a one-year hiatus on senior civil servants after resignation or retirement before they could stand for election. That motion was rejected by the People’s Progressive Movement government.

In a statement concerning the Commission of Enquiry’s report on 28 March, Governor Jack said he hoped most of the recommendations made by Sir Richard would be ‘swiftly implemented after, as appropriate, consultation with Cabinet and consideration by the Legislative Assembly’.

The release stated that some of the recommendations fell within the governor’s reserve powers and others might require legislative or constitutional amendment.

Mr. Jack ordered the enquiry last November to look into allegations that Tourism Minister Charles Clifford took confidential government documents while he served as a senior civil servant and that he then later distributed them to the media.

The Commission of Enquiry – which cost the Cayman taxpayers $242,409 – also looked at broader issues surrounding the matter, including the operations and policies of government boards; the effectiveness of laws governing those entities as well as those that pertain to handling government documents; and whether there should be more protection under the law for whistleblowers who revealed wrong-doing within a government organisation.

Mr. Bush, who urged the governor to look into the matter of Mr. Clifford taking and distributing confidential government documents, believes he was ‘sabotaged’ by Mr. Clifford.

When Mr Bush was Leader of Government Business, Mr. Clifford was his permanent secretary, the highest civil servant in his ministry. Mr. Clifford resigned suddenly with virtually no notice in July 2004 and announced weeks later he would stand in the election scheduled for November 2004. That election was postponed until May 2005 because Hurricane Ivan hit in September 2004.

During the 2005 election campaign, Cayman Net News ran several articles critical of Mr. Bush, some based on government documents. Net News publisher Desmond Seales subsequently disclosed that it was Mr. Clifford who gave him the documents.

Mr. Bush said senior civil servants, such as those who work closely with cabinet ministers, should have a required hiatus after leaving those positions before running for office.

‘There must be a more appreciable break than what Charles Clifford did to me,’ he said. ‘I do not believe a senior civil servant can come out of civil service and just run.

‘It really hurts having someone you trusted sabotage you and tell lies about you,’ he said.

Because of their high position of trust, Mr. Bush believes senior civil servants can easily damage the ministers they serve.

‘People will naturally tend to believe what a senior civil servant is saying, not just here, but the world over.’

Mr. Bush was hesitant to criticise the governor because he thinks he has done a good job. But he nonetheless thinks a decision should be made.

‘The civil servants need to know where they stand,’ he said. ‘The political machinery, whether independent or political parties, need to know, too.’

James Watler, president of the Cayman Islands Civil Service Association, said his organisation made a written submission to the Commission of Enquiry and also met with its members. He said CICSA does not think there should be any hiatus for civil servants wishing to run for political office.

‘What [a hiatus] would do is jeopardise the calibre of people who could run for office,’ Mr. Watler said. ‘People who are in civil service who understand the intricacies and workings of government should not be prevented from running for office.’

Mr. Watler said CICSA sees an imposed hiatus on running for political office as a ‘clear violation of human rights’.

When CICSC representatives met with the Commission of Enquiry, they asked if such a hiatus was imposed on civil servants in the UK, Mr. Watler said.

‘The learned judge couldn’t tell us, and neither could [Commission of Enquiry legal advisor QC Andrew Jones],’ he said. ‘In fact, they couldn’t tell us anyplace where this happens. It seemed like something they pulled out of a hat.’

Mr. Watler was unable to provide a copy of CICSA’s written submission to the Commission of Enquiry without permission from Chief Secretary George McCarthy. Mr. McCarthy, while recognising the validity of interest in the matter, declined such permission at this time because he said the recommendations of the Commission of Enquiry were before Cabinet.

Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin said he thought the matter of a hiatus after leaving civil service before standing for political office would require constitutional change.

‘I don’t believe any local piece of legislation or regulations for civil service can make this kind of change,’ he said. ‘I really do believe there is a constitutional issue here.’

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