AG will look into schools project
Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor on Thursday shot down two requests from politicians to begin formal commissions of inquiry into various government matters.
One of the requests for a commission of inquiry, made by Premier McKeeva Bush, sought to look into the spending and planning around proposals for three new high schools and one new primary school on Grand Cayman under the previous government. One of those planned projects, the proposed Beulah Smith High School in West Bay was discontinued. The plan for the new primary school in George Town also did not proceed.
Mr. Taylor said the auditor general’s office is already planning to carry out performance audits on the John Gray and Clifton Hunter High School projects later in the government’s financial year.
“As such, the governor has told the premier that he does not believe that there is a need to consider setting up a commission of inquiry at this stage,” the statement from the governor’s office read.
The second request for a commission of inquiry came from North Side MLA Ezzard Miller. Mr. Miller asked that a commission be established to investigate an “alleged financial irregularity” relating to Premier Bush.
“This matter is already the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service,” Mr. Taylor said. “In light of this, I do not see the case for considering a commission of inquiry.”
The statement is the first public acknowledgement by the governor or the police that there is actually an investigation of the premier.
Previously, both had refused to name the subject of that investigation.
Mr. Miller’s request for a commission of inquiry was denied outright. However, Governor Taylor left open the possibility that such an inquiry could be made into the high schools construction project at a later date.
“[The governor] would be prepared to consider the matter … after the auditor general has submitted his reports to the Legislative Assembly, should his findings indicate that there are any matters which might benefit from such an inquiry,” the statement from the governor’s office read.
Mr. Taylor said the auditor general’s office would also consider transactions involved in the former plan for Beulah Smith High School in West Bay and the new George Town Primary School construction as part of its work for the year.
Premier Bush made a formal request to the governor’s office for a commission of inquiry on 28 June, following heated debate over the schools projects in the Legislative Assembly, during which Mr. Bush called for the commission.
Mr. Bush raised the issue of two agreements he said were made between the People’s Progressive Movement government and the schools’ general contractor at the time, Tom Jones International.
Education Minister Rolston Anglin said during the assembly debate that there was significant confusion surrounding the schools projects following the change in governments after Cayman’s May 2009 elections. He said the project manager had walked off the job, leaving the new government with two complex projects upon which some “shoddy work” had been performed.
“I had to take advice about what the contracts said versus what Tom Jones was asserting,” Mr. Anglin told the assembly. He said he had received emails from the former school project manager regarding matters outside the scope of the original contract. Those matters included a bridge loan that was secured from Scotiabank without going through the LA’s Finance Committee, Mr. Anglin said.
“I discovered that stop work notices were part of what was going on and the company at the time said they would have their needs met, whatever the cost, promises were being made outside the contract – letters of credit and letters of comfort to the tune of $5 million,” he said.
Former Education Minister and now-Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin has said that all of the issues raised by Mr. Anglin in the assembly on 24 June were “fully vetted” by government’s attorneys and that there was essentially “nothing new” about the current education minister’s statements, other that they were now accompanied by a call for a commission of inquiry.
The Caymanian Compass first reported in June that opposition political party members claimed Premier Bush was the subject of a police investigation involving allegations of “financial irregularities”.
Mr. Bush has previously denied allegations of any wrong-doing.
Mr. Miller said last week that he had concerns about a copy of a letter in his possession, allegedly sent by Mr. Bush to Atlanta, Georgia-based developer Stanley Thomas in October 2004. Mr. Miller said the letter asked for $350,000 to be sent as a balance of payment to a Windsor Development company bank account.
The Windsor Development company is a real estate firm in which – at the time the 2004 letter was allegedly sent – Mr. Bush’s wife, Kerry, was the sole shareholder, according to documentation from the Companies Registry. Mr. Miller said Friday that Mr. Bush’s register of interest form filed with the Legislative Assembly office indicated he was a signatory for the company’s bank account at the time the letter was allegedly sent to Mr. Thomas.
When asked about the October 2004 letter to Mr. Thomas, Mr. Bush said he would make a statement regarding the letter in due course. “They had better wait to see if indeed I wrote the letter and what happened,” Mr. Bush said.
“I have not found anything in my investigation and supporting documentation that seems to be legitimate justification for the demand for payment in the letter from Mr. Bush, so on that basis, we’ve asked the governor to call a commission of inquiry,” Mr. Miller said. “Up to this point in time, I have not been and I believe the opposition has not been officially informed that there is an investigation into this matter ongoing by the police.”
Premier Bush responded to the call for a commission of inquiry by calling it a “red herring” created by Mr. Miller and the PPM to draw attention away from projects such as the Shetty hospital and port developments.
“I am not worried about any commission of inquiry. I have not done anything illegal in any shape or form,” Premier Bush said.
Compass reporters Stuart Wilson and Norma Connolly contributed to this story.