Explanations have proved difficult for a trip by Cabinet Minister Tara Rivers to South Africa, accompanying an official Cayman Islands delegation to Johannesburg for a gathering of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
In a brief comment, Mary Rodrigues, chief officer at the Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs, would say only, “this was not something arranged through our ministry,” promising further details about Ms Rivers’s trip, which were not provided by press time Thursday.
The premier’s office declined to answer questions about what parliamentary or other business Ms Rivers might be conducting on behalf of the Cayman Islands government while she was in Johannesburg; who was paying – and how much – for the trip; and why no public announcement was made.
The three-member Legislative Department delegation comprises Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly in her official capacity as Cayman’s representative to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association; West Bay legislator and opposition leader McKeeva Bush; and Ms Rivers.
No one has indicated whether Ms Rivers attended the association sessions. The conference began Aug. 28 and was scheduled to finish Friday.
Ms Rivers’s trip to South Africa meant she was absent from this week’s sitting of the Legislative Assembly, the first substantive meetings the House has held since the May general elections.
The mystery surrounding Ms Rivers’s trip contrasts sharply with the announcement Thursday by the People’s Progressive Movement government that Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin and chief officer Jennifer Ahearn would leave Saturday for Gibraltar for a Sept. 8-11 “pre-meeting” of the Commonwealth’s Joint Ministerial Council, scheduled to convene in November in London.
The premier, with Ms Ahearn as adviser and assistant, will spend four days in the area, working with government chiefs from other British overseas territories “to exchange views on political and constitutional issues as they relate to the U.K. and its relationships with the overseas territories.”
According to the PPM statement, the November Joint Ministerial Council gathering is scheduled to discuss “economic growth and jobs; protecting the environment; harnessing international support; and delivering better government, better education and stronger, healthier and safer communities.”
Additionally, the announcement detailed a second, post-Gibraltar visit by Mr. McLaughlin to Jersey, meeting Chief Minister Ian Gorst, following up discussions at a pre-Group of Eight meeting in London in June, “relating to … the action plans that were published by overseas territories and the crown dependencies.”
The statement went on to say that both Minister for Financial Services, Commerce and Environment Wayne Panton and Ministry Councilor Roy McTaggart would join Mr. McLaughlin in Jersey, while Ms Ahearn traveled to London.
Despite the detail – and election pledges of transparency and openness – PPM officials declined any explanation of Ms Rivers’s absence, expenses or schedule in South Africa.
Asked for a similar explanation, Suzette Ebanks, acting chief information officer at Government Information Services, the administration’s official marketing and communications arm, said she had known little about the trip.
“We can only put out information that we are aware of,” she said. “We knew there was a delegation headed by the speaker and that acting ministers had come on board because others were on leave.
“We will probably put out something when they come back,” she said.
The trio left Cayman on Aug. 26, and are due back this week.