Planning authority concerned about ‘bias’ by appeals chair

The Central Planning Authority is firing back at Planning Appeals Tribunal chairwoman Theresa Pitcairn after she publicly aired concerns about the authority’s record keeping and potential conflicts of interest. 

On 24 October, the Caymanian Compass published a story wherein Ms Pitcairn, who has served on the tribunal since 2008, said she has fielded complaints that what is actually discussed during the planning authority meetings is not reflected in the written minutes of the meetings. 

Additionally, Ms Pitcairn said people have told her they suspect that planning authority members have conflicts of interest due to their professional occupations related to the construction industry. 

‘Fair and unprejudiced’ 

According to the minutes of the planning authority’s 21 November meeting, “The members discussed their significant concern with recent public comments made by the Chair of the Planning Appeals Tribunal regarding her opinion that the Central Planning Authority was not taking accurate minutes and that the members have conflicts of interest due to their occupations. 

“Because the Chair of the PAT approached the media and aired these views causes a great concern with the Authority that she has a preconceived bias against the Authority and can’t possibly provide a fair and unprejudiced hearing of any appeals of the Authority’s decisions. 

“The Executive Secretary is directed to prepare a memorandum to the Minister, FT&D outlining the Authority’s concerns and all members of the Authority will sign the agreed upon memorandum.” 

 

Compass story 

Ms Pitcairn did not initiate the discussion with the Compass. Instead, the Compass approached Ms Pitcairn after reading e-mails between Ms Pitcairn, other tribunal members and government officials that referred to the concerns. The e-mails are part of tribunal records that were made available for inspection following an information request. 

Ms Pitcairn did not personally allege that the planning authority did not keep accurate records, nor that the planning authority members have conflicts of interest; rather, she related concerns that have been aired to her during her time on the tribunal. She became the tribunal chairwoman in March 2011. 

In addition to Ms Pitcairn, the Information Commissioner’s Office also said they were aware of allegations that planning authority records may not be held properly. 

 

No response 

On 17 October, the Compass sent an e-mail to top Department of Planning officials highlighting the statements by Ms Pitcairn and the Information Commissioner’s Office, requesting comments from department officials and asking that the e-mail be forwarded to planning authority members for their consideration. 

Specific questions posted by the Compass include:  

“Do the CPA’s minutes accurately reflect everything that is said during the CPA meetings?”; “Do other records (i.e. draft transcripts, audio files, handwritten notes, etc.) of the CPA meetings exist, apart from the agendas, minutes and application/objectors’ materials?”; “Is the CPA considering retaining audio recordings of the meetings in the future?”; “What measures does the CPA take to ensure that no apparent or potential conflicts of interest exist? (For example, is a register of interests maintained?)”; “I know that CPA members recuse themselves from considering applications in which a conflict of interest may exist. How is that determined? Is it up to the individual member to bring up a possible connection?” and “Do any mechanisms or regulations exist to prevent a CPA member for gaining financially from a project that the CPA approves?” 

The Compass has not received a response from the department or planning authority members. 

 

Audio, administrative bench 

In the 24 October story, Ms Pitcairn also expressed concerns about record keeping at the tribunal level as well. Ms Pitcairn suggested that potential problems with record keeping at the planning authority could be resolved by maintaining audio recordings of meetings in addition to the written minutes. 

In a broader context, Ms Pitcairn said she wants government to overhaul the entire way administrative law matters are handled, by replacing various appointed tribunals across different areas of government (such as planning, immigration and labour) with a uniform administrative bench that operates according to one set of rules. 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Pitcairn was right to take note of those concerns. I have often wondered how the Chairman of the CPA can be the owner of the Island’s largest supplier of construction materials. Does that not represent an inherent conflict of interest in respect of each application to approve a development? When those developments are approved by the CPA are building materials purchased from the Chairman’s business by the developer?

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