Commission to examine smaller contracts

The newly created Commission for
Standards in Public Life has started examining the awarding of public contracts
in Cayman.

The work is part of the commission’s
constitutionally-mandated efforts to police the activities of public officials
to ensure that proper standards are maintained and that perceptions of
corruption within the public sector are rooted out.

Commission Chair Karin Thompson
said members will examine all contract-awarding procedures currently used by
the Central Tenders Committee, but will pay particular attention to smaller
dollar-value contracts.

Right now, any contracts under
CI$250,000 do not require review and approval by central tenders.

“An area that we’re concerned about
that may very well require additional legislation or regulations is the area
where public contracts fall outside the scope of central tenders,” Mrs.
Thompson said. “I do not think those are contracts that can be ignored, that
they were intended to be ignored.”

Areas for improvement identified

Mrs. Thompson said the commission,
which has so far met in secret, has identified several areas where improvements
in local laws need to be made to assist and enhance the commission’s ability to
do its work.

Those areas include the appointment
of individuals to Cayman’s various public authorities, boards and committees;
of which there are more than 100.

“There are those who view most
appointments to those as political in nature,” Mrs. Thompson said, adding that
the commission felt there was the possibility of establishing better guidelines
regarding the appointment of board members “with a view to avoiding this
perception of corruption, of a conflict of interest”.

A third area of the law the
commission will review includes a look at “appropriate sanctions” for public
officials who don’t uphold the proper standards.

For instance, Mrs. Thompson noted
that there is a civil servants code of conduct in place now, but punishment for
offences of maladministration or corruption engaged in by certain office
holders has not always been clearly defined.

“That’s where I find there is
need,” she said. “(Civil servants) can be fired or perhaps suspended for a
limited period of time, but if you’re, for example, a member of the Legislative
Assembly, you’re not going to be fired from your job.”

“We cannot simply rely on codes of
conduct…we have to go beyond that, and this is an area that will no doubt
prove to be controversial.”

The first change that needs to
occur, Mrs. Thompson said, is in the area of public interest registers, which
she said would need to be expanded greatly is the Commission for Standards in
Public Life is to do its job.

According to Mrs. Thompson, that
register is now limited to only elected members of the Legislative Assembly,
the former official members of the LA, and journalists. 

“That law (referring to the
Register of Interests Law, 1996)…will not give us the power that is required by
the Constitution,” she said. “Clearly, my commission is not interested in the
activities of the journalist. I’m concerned with the activities of the public

“That is a classic example of the
commission being charged with carrying out a function that we simply, by law
are incapable of carrying out.”