By “everybody,” we include every leading Caymanian politician, every reporter, every editor, the pensions board, the health insurance board and the work permit board. They all knew and all kept quiet.
We refer, of course, to the despicable behavior of Desmond Seales, now deceased, then publisher of the Cayman Net News, now also deceased.
Four years after his passing, Mr. Seales and his company Cayman Net Ltd. are back in the news, this time in a Summary Court decision last week that resulted in an unknown number of Mr. Seales’s former employees being bilked out of their pensions.
Mr. Seales routinely did not pay his pension contributions, his health insurance contributions or, far too often, even the salaries of his desperate and near destitute employees. And the Cayman Islands government looked the other way. He continued to apply for — and regularly receive — new work permits for unwitting foreign workers.
We’re not questioning the legal judgment of Magistrate Grace Donalds or prosecuting Crown Counsel Kenneth Ferguson, who accepted the argument that since Cayman Net Ltd. was recently struck off the Companies Registry, “this entity, in legal terms, does not exist.”
No company, ergo, no charges. Case dismissed. Too bad for the employees, who according to the charges, were owed money from several time periods between August 2007 and February 2010.
We do, however, question how it is possible for a company, in the midst of pension-related court proceedings that began in June 2010, to be approved for dissolution without the judge’s involvement. Regardless of legality, it makes a mockery of government’s pretenses of enforcing laws on pensions and health insurance.
Meanwhile, even though the company “in legal terms, does not exist,” the Net News website remains online (with the domain name good until December 2014), and its Trade and Business License, as of February, remained valid through October.
With the government sidelined from a game it created, it now appears that the ex-employees will have to seek redress on their own in civil court. That, of course, means that people who claim they are owed money must now retain attorneys at their own expense. If there ever were a civil case where Legal Aid should be provided, this is it.
The media, including the Caymanian Compass, have a special cross to bear in the Desmond Seales saga. While Mr. Seales committed the worst of journalistic sins — he regularly threatened potential advertisers that if they didn’t sign up, he would punish them by publishing negative stories about them in his newspaper — the media were voluntarily voiceless.
Collectively they turned their backs on Mr. Seales’s victims, not only failing to fulfill their raison d’être of “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted,” but also failing to protect people who were colleagues and, in many cases, future coworkers.
The media’s motivations for silence — be it to avoid impugning a rival (if rogue) publisher or drawing tortious ripostes — are of no consequence. When the media condoned Mr. Seales’s behavior at Net News from 1999 to 2010, it committed passive breaches of professional ethics every bit as serious as Mr. Seales’s active ones.
Just as the people of Cayman should no longer tolerate employers withholding payments to employees, neither should they tolerate the media’s willful withholding of truths, especially ones as vicious as Mr. Seales’s wrongdoings.