Constitution costs

The government paid consultant Professor Jeffrey Jowell QC more than a third of the $1.3 million spent on the constitutional review during the last financial year.

Mr. Jowell, a leading authority on public law, was hired to advise Cayman on drafting its new constitution. He was paid $424,000 from July 2007 to June 2008, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts revealed at a Finance Committee meeting at the Legislative Assembly on Thursday.

After opposition United Democratic Party members insisted on a breakdown of all additional non-budgeted payments for the constitutional review before voting on the item, the committee was supplied with a spreadsheet of the costs.

These included Mr. Jowell’s expenses, such as car rental, hotel costs and restaurant bills, as well as additional funding on promotions and publicity.

Initially, the government had budgeted to spend $800,000 on the constitutional review process in the last fiscal year (1 July 2007 to 30 June 2008), but ended up spending almost $1.3 million instead – an additional $495,000, which included an un-budgeted $283,585 to Mr. Jowell.

Mr. Tibbetts explained the supplemental costs arose because originally it was planned that the constitutional review would conclude with a referendum in the summer, but when that was postponed, work on the review continued apace.

‘When the original appropriation was done, the constitutional modernisation process was anticipated to conclude via a referendum within the given period of time. It has since been extended…’

He continued: ‘It was anticipated when the initial appropriation was done that the process would be winding down before June 2008. Instead, by June 2008… it was intensifying.’

The original plan was to carry out a consultation with the public, draw up a draft constitution, and invite the public to vote on it in the referendum, prior to taking that draft to London to negotiate a new constitution. The People’s Progressive Movement scrapped the plan in June when the party announced the referendum would be held instead at the same time as the 2009 General Election – following constitutional negotiations with the UK.

A negotiation team from the Cayman Islands, with up to four members from each political party, as well as one representative each from the Chamber of Commerce, the Cayman Islands Ministers Association and the CI Mission of Seventh Day Adventists, began talks with the UK last month and another round of negotiations will take place in December. Prof. Jowell and members of the Constitutional Review Secretariat will support the team.

Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush criticised the government for failing to initially provide a detailed accounting of how the additional $495,000 was spent, and a vote on the supplemental spending for the constitutional review was delayed until the expenditure was accounted for.

‘This is a lot of money. I look at all this serious money… we cannot get any money from the government to do the same thing that they are doing,’ Mr. Bush said.

According to the document supplied to legislators on the supplemental funding, $27,633 was paid to Cayman Free Press, owner of the Caymanian Compass; total of $38,188 to three of Desmond Seales’ companies including $8,750 to the Cayman Net News, $14,678 to Cayman Net Ltd., and $14,760 to MCM Consulting; $7,856 to DMS Broadcasting; $5,880 to Rooster 101; and $6,580 to VIBE FM.

Those figures were not the total amounts paid, but the money paid in addition to the originally budgeted amounts.

The committee, which was sitting to vote on individual supplemental spending throughout government departments for the 2007/08 financial year, voted to agree to the additional spending for the review, despite opposition members continuing to demand a fuller breakdown of the entire spending on the review.

‘Get it all,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘I want to see what you are all doing up until this date – from the outset to today,’ adding that he wanted to see the total spending done on printing and promotional services.

Mr. Tibbetts told the committee that a more detailed breakdown of all spending for the review would be made available later to legislators.

Heated exchanges erupted between legislators on Thursday and again on Friday when UDP politician Julianna O’Connor-Connolly asked members to declare if they were Lions Club members after it was determined that one local company – Lions Productions – was paid $11,535 for audio and visual services as part of the promotional push for the new constitution and was associated with the Club.

Four PPM MLAs declared they were proud to be members of the Lions Club and insisted there was no conflict of interest involved.