Report: Bush ‘hired’ port employees
Direct political interference in the hiring of Port Authority of the Cayman Islands employees has been alleged against former Premier McKeeva Bush by the Cayman Islands auditor general.
A report from the auditor general’s office released this week documented two employees being hired at the port authority – once in 2004 and again in 2009 – due to specific instructions from Mr. Bush.
Mr. Bush vigorously denied he had done anything wrong in an interview about the matter Thursday and said he hadn’t even seen at the time it was released to the media. “I’m going to sue him [referring to the auditor general].
“As an elected representative accountable to the people who elected him to get the job done, the politician has to try and make sure the work is done,” Mr. Bush said. “If that is deemed undue interference, then so be it!”
According to the report, two port authority workers were initially hired in 2004, when Mr. Bush was leader of government business and also chairman of the port authority’s board of directors. They were brought on to monitor boat access to the Sandbar in the North Sound, as well as maintain a buoy system for the entrance point through the reef on the north side of the sound.
In 2005, the two employees were terminated from their positions.
In 2009, Mr. Bush, then the premier, verbally instructed the port authority director to reinstate arrangements with the same two employees at a salary of $1,000 per month, the auditor general’s office reported.
“Up to February 2012, a total of $90,000 had been paid to these individuals without any evidence of work being done,” Mr. Swarbrick’s report noted. “The installation of the buoys was never completed and no report of any kind has ever been filed.
“The action identified above is a clear example of undue political influence and override that undermines the ability of an organisation such as [the port authority] to operate effectively.”
Former port board chairman Stefan Baraud said he had no idea about the arrangements involving the two employees. Calls to port authority director Paul Hurlston were not returned by press time.
In a lengthy statement received Thursday, Mr. Bush explained in detail why the two men had been hired.
“In the term 2003-2005, after receiving many complaints from the cruise passengers going to the Sandbar and Caymanian operators of various situations … I asked the management to get something done about the matter and to have the place monitored on a daily basis,” he said.
“These Sandbar matters were so troubling that they were the subject of monthly meetings that I had to hold with operators and others. These complaints were extensively discussed at length in board meetings with management over an extended period of time.
“Management did nothing and the then-board agreed with me to put in place two persons who were knowledgeable of the area, themselves being operators without any blemish on their operations. That was done around the end of 2003 (by the board and not by me personally) and two people were hired. The system of buoys to be put in place in the area of the Sandbar was never completed because management didn’t do its work to make it happen.
“If I could have done that part of the agreement myself, it would have been done!” Mr. Bush said. “Nevertheless the situation improved over the time the persons were employed.”
Mr. Bush then recounted the events after his United Democratic Party government was elected to power in May 2009: “I asked the chair of the authority, and it was agreed – I was not part of the board then – to put the two men back on watch of the area. It was agreed and the situation improved again. I don’t know what was paid, but I understood that for the periods they were employed, it was $1,000 per month each.
“As minister, I never received any complaints from the director or management, the board or otherwise.”
The Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Law does make it an offence to “influence or negotiate appointments or dealing in [public] offices”; however, that must be done while seeking a reward or advantage of some kind.
Section 15(a) of the law reads: “A person who receives, agrees to receive, gives or procures to be given, directly or indirectly, a loan, reward, advantage or other benefit in consideration for cooperation, assistance or exercise of influence to secure the appointment of any other person to a public office … commits an offence …”
The Public Service Management Law generally frowns upon any sort of “political pressure” on the government service, although the law only deals directly with the civil service. Employees of statutory authorities and government-owned companies are generally not considered civil servants.
If the “political pressure” persists, relative to any situation, the governor must instruct the legislator involved to “cease and desist and the member shall do so.”
Generally, statutory authorities – like the port authority – operate under the direction of an appointed board of managers, which then delegates responsibility for day-to-day operations of the authority to staff.
The auditor general’s office listed the port authority in with a number of other public sector entities where board members and elected ministers appeared to have undue influence over the operations of the companies or authorities they directed.
With the port authority board, auditors found board members acting as agents in contract negotiations. In one case, auditors said the chairman of the board signed a contract for repairs to the port authority’s facility and then sent it to the port director, who signed it a day later.
“The practice of having board members involved in the operations of the entity is inappropriate and creates considerable additional unmanaged reputational risks,” Mr. Swarbrick wrote in his report.
In addition, auditors found the port authority purchases most of its supplies through single-source contracts without bothering to enter a bidding process.