Civil servants fuming

The Cayman Islands Civil Service Association has harshly criticised a proposal in the revised constitution that would require senior government employees to wait to run for political office for at least a year after resigning from their government jobs.

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Ian Hendry

‘We find this proposal repugnant as it seeks to expressly limit one class of Caymanian from freely exercising their civil and political rights to stand for the highest office in their land,’ Civil Service Association President James Watler wrote in a six-page letter to the UK’s chief constitutional negotiator Ian Hendry. ‘This is fundamentally undemocratic and as such relegates public servants to the proverbial rank of second class citizen.’

The proposal as it reads in the latest revised draft constitution states that government chief officers ‘or such other senior office in the civil service as may be prescribed by law’ could fall under the 12-month hiatus period.

Cayman Islands ministers, opposition lawmakers, and representatives of the private sector are in London this week trying to hammer out a compromise on a draft constitution that is proposed to be brought to islands voters for approval in a 20 May referendum.

The issue of senior civil servants seeking office shortly after resigning their posts gained the country’s attention when a Commission of Enquiry was called to look into the removal of confidential files from the Ministry of Tourism in 2004.

It was revealed in the commission hearings that then-Tourism Ministry Permanent Secretary Charles Clifford improperly removed those files and gave them to a local newspaper with at least the partial intent of damaging his political opponent and former boss, McKeeva Bush, ahead of the May 2005 elections.

Mr. Bush’s party, the United Democratic Party, lost control of government in those elections and Mr. Clifford became the Tourism Minister. Mr. Clifford’s resignation as permanent secretary in July 2004 came less than a month before he announced he was seeking office in the November 2004 elections. Those elections, however, were ultimately delayed until May 2005 because of Hurricane Ivan.

In his letter to the UK, Mr. Watler said the constitutionally imposed hiatus would actually not prevent the abuse it seeks to prevent.

‘The problem is that of an unscrupulous civil servant,’ Mr. Watler said. ‘Installing a 12-month hiatus will simply mean that he/she would have access to one year’s less information to use dishonestly prior to Election Day.’

Mr. Watler pointed out that other rules for civil servants that already exist in the Public Service Management Law provide some protection against the revelation of documents and set out discipline for erring government employees. He told the UK that matter should be handled as an employment issue and not a constitutional one.

Although the Commission of Enquiry found Mr. Clifford had not acted properly in taking and divulging confidential government files, it did not recommend any disciplinary action against Mr. Clifford, partially because he was no longer a civil servant.

Elected officials on both sides of Cayman’s political aisle have weighed in on the matter.

Mr. Bush, now the opposition party leader, proposed the idea of a delay in civil servants seeking elected office prior to the Commission of Enquiry hearings in January 2008.

The ruling People’s Progressive Movement government have also said they believe the issue should be dealt with in the constitution and not as an internal civil service matter.

‘I don’t believe any local piece of legislation or regulations for civil service can make this kind of change,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said last year.

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