Former Premier McKeeva Bush was directly involved in Bernie Bush’s rise to the directorship of the Pirates Week Festival, according to Tourism Attraction Board records. Bernie Bush resigned from that position in March to seek political office.
McKeeva Bush and Bernie Bush both represent the district of West Bay in the Legislative Assembly as members of the United Democratic Party opposition.
The records from 2009 and 2010 came to light following allegations by the Cayman Islands auditor general that McKeeva Bush used “undue political influence” to directly interfere with hiring at the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands which, like the Tourism Attraction Board, is a statutory authority.
The minutes of Board meetings from December 2009 and March 2010 indicate the former premier issued a “directive” to remove Casandra Hibbert from the top post in the Pirates Week Office and then recommended the Board promote deputy director Bernie Bush to take her place.
McKeeva: Ministry staff sought my support
Former premier Bush said there was much debate over the effectiveness and future of Pirates Week during the 2009 election, and he had wanted to cancel Pirates Week, rename it, package it with Batabano, transform it or otherwise reorganise the event.
“The decision made by [government] with the ministry was to keep it and to do a strategic reorganisation, including staffing,” the former premier said in an email to the Caymanian Compass. “Money was short and the ministry staff asked me as the minister responsible to give my support to the proposed changes, and I did so.”
He said, “The result is that at the end of the day, there has been a tremendous improvement in Pirates Week!”
Bernie Bush said his understanding wasn’t that Ms Hibbert was “fired”, but that she was asked to go over to the Land and Sea Cooperative “to try to straighten that up”, but for some reason, that didn’t materialise. Ms Hibbert, who has since married and taken the last name Morris, is now manager of e-business and international research for the Department of Tourism. The Compass had not been able to reach her for comment as of press time.
The Compass obtained the meeting minutes of the Board from February 2008 to December 2012 via an open records request under the Freedom of Information Law. The current director of Cayman’s national festival is Melanie McField, who was appointed in June. According to a job advertisement placed by the Board in the Compass in April, the salary range for the executive director is $71,688-$81,120 per year.
‘Directive from the Hon. Premier’
Minutes from the Board’s meeting in September 2009 refer to Ms Hibbert as “the newly appointed Executive Director for Pirates Week Committee”. During that meeting, the Board considered a report from Ms Hibbert outlining plans for the 2009 festival.
The next time the Board met was in December 2009, after the festival occurred. One of the new business items considered by the Board during that meeting was “Change of Employment Status for Pirates Week Staff”.
According to the minutes, “Members were informed by [Board CEO Gilbert Connolly] that he had received a directive from the Hon. Premier through the Ministry of FS,T&D [Financial Services, Tourism and Development] which called for the termination of the employment agreement with [information redacted by the Board] as Executive Director of the PWO [Pirates Week Office].
“It was explained that the [rationale] for this decision was that the PWO could not sustain the cost of funding 2 senior members of staff on a long term basis. It was agreed that the effective date of termination would be January 31, 2010. The directive also included future plans for [redacted], the Deputy Executive Director.”
The minutes show the Board “unanimously agreed to accept the Ministry’s directive and directed the CEO to meet with [redacted] and inform her of the decision. Members also agreed to deal with [redacted] employment at a later date”.
The Compass has requested that Mr. Connolly, as the authority’s chief officer, review the Board’s decision to redact various pieces of information from the board minutes, and is currently awaiting his response.
The Board’s next meeting was in March 2010, where members discussed the “Appointment of Executive Director of Pirates Week”. According to the minutes, “Based on the written recommendations received from the Hon. Premier, Members were asked to [approve] the appointment of [redacted] as Executive Director of the Pirates Week Office”.
“Members unanimously agreed to appoint [redacted] as Director of the Pirates Week Festival”.
During the same meeting, Bernie Bush made a presentation to the Board on ideas for the 2010 festival. According to the minutes, Bernie Bush had met with McKeeva Bush, who “agreed that the name of the Pirates Week Festival would not change. However, the Premier had recommended that the branding be changed to remove any reference to piracy. The Premier would like to see more emphasis on Caymanian Heritage”.
Two pay hikes
In addition to Pirates Week, the former premier was also apparently involved in staff-level decisions on at least one other occasion, according to the Board minutes. During the Board’s May 2010 meeting, members discussed a “Ministry Directive to Fund Salary Increase”.
According to the minutes, “A directive from the Ministry of FS,T&D advising the TAB to find additional funding to pay for the increase in salaries for 2 members of staff at Pedro St. James (approved by the Hon. Premier) generated extensive discussion on the feasibility of finding such funds. Members expressed concerns that the Board was being forced to find funds that it did not have to pay salary increases.”
Despite those concerns, “Members unanimously agreed that the Board would have to find a way to comply with the Government’s directive.”