The breadth and scope of the Cayman Islands Auditor General’s report on central government “travel and hospitality” spending, totaling $8.6 million over three years, is, simply put, astounding.
The vast majority of audits are about as inspiring as a dental exam — routine, uncomfortable, intimate yet mundane. This report, however, conjures up visions of modern Bacchanalia — an uninterrupted series of first-class tickets to revelry across the globe, and back home, with the champagne flowing as freely as the government credit, all for the benefit of Cayman’s elected politicians and top civil servants, and their chosen companions.
Particularly astonishing is the apparent disregard for any appearance of decorum; equally so is the apparent disdain for the many Caymanians in poverty who helped put leaders into office but ended up paying for their extravagancies.
The report, which covers the years 2009-2012, portrays our government leaders not as dedicated, professional individuals, but as a privileged, untouchable aristocracy defined by indulgence and entitlement in the absence of fear of accountability.
Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick said the report has been presented to the Anti-Corruption Commission for further review.
Therefore, the free-wheeling misappropriation of public money is now a matter for the consideration of David Baines, who is both Commissioner of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission.
Thus far, the Anti-Corruption Commission has been nothing short of ineffectual and irrelevant. In four years, a grand total of two people have been convicted under the Anti-Corruption Law, and these were the proverbial “small fry”: a civilian police employee for improperly soliciting immigration information, and a police constable for taking a $500 bribe.
(We would note that former Premier McKeeva Bush, who was not investigated by the police Anti-Corruption Unit but by the RCIPS Financial Crime Unit, has been charged with certain offenses under the Anti-Corruption Law. [*] The probe into his affairs has been stretching on for at least three years. It’s now been nearly 1.5 years since his arrest, the loss of his title as Premier and the dissolution of his government, and Mr. Bush’s hearing won’t start until September — at the earliest. This is neither fair to Mr. Bush nor to the cause of justice.)
We need to be mindful that Mr. Swarbrick’s report, while it looks at $8.6 million in expenses over a three year period, deals only with travel and entertainment. The “big money,” we would suspect, lies elsewhere, such as in the letting of large contracts, the oversight of large capital projects or the running of large departments.
Here at the Compass, hardly a day goes by without someone from within the civil service whispering into our ears sordid tales of corruption and abuse within the upper echelons of the public sector. Citing fear of retaliation, nearly all of these informants insist on being kept “off-the-record,” which usually means their stories are kept out of the public domain.
If we, who after all are “just newspaper people,” are continually hearing of blatant mismanagement and potentially criminal activity throughout government, then surely Commissioner Baines, the police and the Anti-Corruption Commission have heard as much, and more.
The Auditor General has presented Commissioner Baines with sufficient cause to engage in a serious investigation. Ultimately the onus falls on Governor Helen Kilpatrick, who as head of the civil service, can no longer sit on the sidelines as an interested, but passive, observer.
High stature in the civil service or as an elected member no doubt brings with it tempting access to perks and the trappings of privilege, but it does not — and it must not — include immunity from either investigation — or prosecution.
[*] Editor’s note: Changes were made to reflect that former Premier McKeeva Bush was not investigated by the police Anti-Corruption Unit, but by the Financial Crime Unit and that Mr. Bush is charged with certain offenses under the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Law.