PAC questions Tempura costs

Questions about who approved a major salary increase for the former chief investigator of the now-infamous Operation Tempura were bandied about Wednesday during Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee hearings.

Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks admitted that those payments for ex-Senior Investigating Officer Martin Bridger were approved by an oversight committee of which Mr. Ebanks was a member. The salary boost occurred once Mr. Bridger and three other police investigators became special constables of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

However, Mr. Ebanks said lawmakers shouldn’t have expected the services of several veteran UK Metropolitan Police officers to come cheap.

‘The local contracts were contracts that we dealt with,’ Mr. Ebanks said. ‘The source that was used, the Met police, was clearly not the source that one goes to if (they’re) looking to procure the most economical resource. But that was our starting point.

‘If you’re going to source a Daimler or a Rolls Royce, you can get into arguing over whether it should cost $100,000 or $120,000 – but should you be getting a Daimler or a Rolls Royce?’ Mr. Ebanks asked the committee Wednesday.

An audit performed by Cayman Islands Auditor General Dan Duguay’s office revealed that Mr. Bridger received a total of CI$73,242 in salary and expenses between September 2007 and April 2008 for his work in investigating claims of corruption within the RCIPS. During that period, Mr. Bridger was still an employee of the UK’s Metropolitan Police Service.

Between May 2008 and January 2009, those salary and expense costs totalled CI$247,000 – more than $27,000 per month. During that period, Mr. Bridger and three other former Met police officers had been signed into RCIPS contracts.

On Wednesday, Mr. Ebanks said that the differences were not so stark. He estimated that Mr. Bridger cost the Cayman Islands about $19,000 per month in total from September 2007 until his retirement from the UK Met police. As an RCIPS special constable, those costs were about $26,000 per month, Mr. Ebanks said.

‘(The auditor) was accurate…when he said the arrangements were made by the UK Met and the Governor’s office,’ Mr. Ebanks said.

‘(Mr. Bridger) was able to demand whatever he wanted,’ Committee Chairman Ezzard Miller said.

Governor Stuart Jack was invited to attend Wednesday’s committee hearings, but did not appear, Mr. Miller said.

‘The Met police are known to be expensive,’ Opposition MLA Moses Kirkconnell said. ‘I believe what is uncommon about it is if you go to hire the best and you receive the worst.’

The two-year investigation is expected to cost the Cayman Islands government in the region of CI$10 million and has thus far led to no convictions of anyone alleged to have been involved in criminal activity.

Mr. Duguay’s audit pointed to a general lack of organisational structure and control during the two-year probe among the various government agencies who were responsible for Operation Tempura.

Lawmakers questioned Mr. Ebanks on how this situation might be prevented in the future.

‘The cures…require some serious changes to how we do business,’ Mr. Ebanks said. ‘This presumption that anyone who the Foreign and Commonwealth Office picks to be governor is fully discharged to assume the commander-in-chief’s responsibility…just isn’t one that I subscribe to.’

Police Commissioner David Baines told the Public Accounts Committee that ancillary investigations of other criminal complaints filed against RCIPS officers in the wake of Operation Tempura are still being looked into. However, he said the initial probe, Operation Tempura, has been wrapped up.

Mr. Baines, who only took office on 1 June of this year, was a bit limited in what he could tell the committee about past events.

‘It’s a bit like arriving at the party just as it’s over,’ Mr. Baines said.

The RCIPS is still facing two lawsuits filed by former members of the police service over Operation Tempura, including ex-Commissioner Stuart Kernohan and retired Inspector Burmon Scott. Also, there are some internal disciplinary matters to be resolved regarding suspended Deputy Police Commissioner Rudolph Dixon.