Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor criticised Premier McKeeva Bush on Friday over the Premier’s recent harsh words concerning the auditor general’s office.
Although he tuned it down a bit in a Friday statement, Premier Bush replied that “there are two sides to his matter” and did not apologise for his earlier remarks.
In a rare, perhaps unique moment Mr. Taylor took the Premier to task over what he termed “personal attacks” against the country’s auditor general and his staff.
Mr. Taylor has typically stayed out of such verbal spats in his first 18 months as governor, but Friday he questioned Premier Bush’s statements over the past week regarding an auditor general’s report on government procurement and the office’s intentions to look into the Premier’s ‘nation-building’ fund.
“I do not think it is helpful to accuse the auditor general of bias, of ‘seeking out banner headlines’, of being used as a ‘hit man’, or to accuse his staff of being ‘spiteful’ or of ‘indulging in bureaucratic harassment,” Mr. Taylor said in a statement released Friday. “These are very serious accusations to make. I have seen no evidence to justify them.”
Mr. Bush’s comments about the banner headlines referred to a Caymanian Compass story last week that quoted Deputy Auditor General Garnet Harrison as saying the auditor’s office would look into the nation-building fund, including $4.1 million given to 18 local churches. The “hit man” remark was made in a story in another local publication where the Premier sought to respond to the auditor general’s report on deficient procurement processes used in obtaining three government contracts.
The ‘spiteful’ and ‘bureaucratic harassment’ comments were made in a broadcast address to the country Thursday, during which Mr. Bush again sought to criticise the auditor general’s office.
Mr. Bush, in a statement Friday night, said he supported good government measures and had “pushed for more good government vehicles than any other legislator”.
However, he said he believed the auditor general’s office had gone beyond its duties under the Cayman Islands Constitution in this instance.
“I thank my friend His Excellency the Governor for his advice … however, in this instance, there are two sides to this matter,” the Premier said.
“The auditor general’s duty … is to report his findings to the Public Accounts Committee and the Legislative Assembly,” Mr. Bush said. “He should not be in these highfalutin every day interviews with the media. He should not be courting the press.”
“I will continue to support him and his office in getting value for government money spent. I want a better procurement system.”
Governor Taylor said the auditor’s office had done nothing wrong.
“It is perfectly legitimate for the Premier to respond robustly to any points made in reports issued by the auditor general,” Mr. Taylor said. “But, in my view, it is unacceptable to respond by making personal attacks on the auditor general and his staff.
“I believe that the auditor general and his staff have acted in a responsible, objective and professional manner, as I would expect of all civil servants.”
Mr. Taylor said he has spoken with Mr. Bush about his concerns and urged him to “show restraint”. He also said that addressing problems with government procurement would be one of his main priorities over the coming months.
In his Friday statement, Mr. Bush raised a number of issues that had not been made public previously regarding the auditor general’s most recent report.
Mr. Bush said that bids for procuring services for government that should have been $3 million were going for $6 million. He said Cabinet “stepped in” and cut those bids back to $3 million.
A similar move was made with the public closed-circuit television contract, the Premier said. Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick had earlier identified a six-week delay after the initial CCTV contract was awarded that was due to “Cabinet intervention”.
“With the CCTV we had to step in because it going to a chosen friend for $3 million,” Mr. Bush said. “It took six weeks but we got it cut back by $1 million.”
The remainder of the CCTV contract has yet to be bid. The estimated total cost of the purchase and installation for the entire project is expected to remain around $3 million, not including $500,000 per year in operation and maintenance costs.
Mr. Bush said the 2009 Jazz Fest contract – also identified in the auditor general’s report as a problem because it was never put out to tender – was an example of the “bureaucratic harassment” he was facing.
“When I got elected in May 2009, the Jazz Fest project and Alicia Keys [who headlined the show that year] were already decided and I was told by the acting director [of tourism] Shomari Scott, that it was already decided and I could not do anything about it,” Mr. Bush said. “I have never seen the contract.”
Mr. Bush said the auditor general was told the same thing by Mr. Scott when their representatives asked.
“When I met with the auditor general, they indicated that when he made his report they would acknowledge this,” Mr. Bush said. “When he did make his report, he slammed me for what he called undue interference in matters.
“I take this as a direct slap in the face of the Premier and Minister of Finance and I will speak out when I see deliberate attempts to lay me waste in the public arena.”
The auditor general’s office provided the opportunity for all government departments to make management responses to the audits done on the 2009 Jazz Fest and CCTV contracts, as well as the recent bidding on a $155 million government loan. Although some entities submitted comments about the auditor’s findings, none turned in what auditors considered a response to the recommendations made in the report, according to Mr. Swarbrick.