Accusations fly around House
Charges of nepotism and political glad-handing came from both sides of the Legislative Assembly Wednesday as government members passed legal changes that would make it easier for members of two key boards to be removed.
The ruling United Democratic Party government expressed concern that certain individuals on appointed boards, put there by the previous People’s Progressive Movement administration, were simply not willing to work with the new government.
PPM members said they were worried that directors on the Information and Communications Technology Authority and the Electricity Regulatory Authority were being targeted for replacement by the UDP in a system that would leave the boards wide open to political influence.
‘It is no use of having people on your boards who do not support your policies,’ Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush said during Wednesday’s LA debate.
‘What the government is doing is wrong,’ Opposition MLA Alden McLaughlin said. ‘They can dress it up any way they like, the truth will out soon enough.’
The amendments to the laws, which govern how appointments to the ICTA board and the electricity authority are made, approved late Wednesday, will expand the membership of both of those boards from between four to six members, to between eight and 10 members.
The changes also give Cabinet the ability to remove the members of those two authorities at any time, for any reason, regardless of how long their term of appointment is scheduled to last. Also, a requirement for board members to have substantial knowledge in specialised areas has been removed in the legislation.
Mr. Bush said the UDP government wished to expand the experience and expertise available to the two boards, as well as placing members there who would support administration policies.
Opposition members said the ability to pull board members’ appointments at any time for any reason would weaken the independence of those boards, which are there to provide oversight.
East End MLA Arden McLean in particular questioned the status of the upcoming contract for competition in Cayman’s electricity industry, which must come before the Electricity Regulatory Authority board for approval.
The ERA is considering two bids to provide an additional 32 MW of electricity by 2013. Jamaican company Jamaica Energy Partners is bidding against Caribbean Utility Company for the contract.
‘Currently, the Electricity Regulatory Authority is looking at solicitation and the like,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘(There must be) some degree of confidence that this country is not exposed…that there is no intent to remove these (board) directors in one fell swoop.’
Mr. Bush dismissed such concerns as the opposition playing politics with the situation.
‘It is not being autocratic by putting people on the board who can work with you,’ Mr. Bush said.
Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said Thursday during a Cabinet press briefing that the amendments passed Wednesday were not related to the negotiations for electric competition. She said a final decision on the winning bidder of the solicitation contract was expected by mid-August.
She said no new board members had been named as of Thursday, but were likely to be ready to name any new members by 4 August.
There was some confusion about whether the current members of the electricity authority would be allowed to stay in their posts. On 17 July, a memo from Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly asked for all board members resignations as a matter of course. Five days later, the day of Wednesday’s Legislative Assembly meeting, an e-mail was sent by Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly informing those board members that they would be reappointed.
Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly also said that no elected members of the Legislative Assembly would be placed on either the electricity authority or the ICTA board. Following Thursday’s press briefing, Cline Glidden also denied that he would take a position on the board, saying he was ‘too busy’.
Mrs. O’Connor-Connolly added that she was surprised ‘such an innocent piece of legislation’ had sparked such ‘acrimonious debate’.
Opposition members did not agree with that view.
‘It is not simply a matter of expanding the boards,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘When we make changes like this, we corrupt the process. We essentially concede that whatever the big boss man says goes. That is what I fear.’
Mr. Bush fired back, stating that board members placed on certain authorities were simply not attending meetings and had refused to follow administration policies when they were. He even accused one board chairman of granting themselves a contract worth $6 million on the day the new government was sworn into office.
‘I will make information on that public if I must,’ Mr. Bush said.
Compass photo journalist Norma Connolly assisted with this report.