Auditor General’s report: Time to call the cops

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.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. In terms of this 8,600,000.00 CI travel hospitality spending in 36 months, where is the line between irresponsible and incompetent spending and criminal spending?

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  2. Aren’t there strict guidelines for travel?
    If there aren’t guidelines already, why not? How can anyone be charged with abuse if there are no guidelines? People will always go to the limit!
    A simple established mandatory guideline will rein in most travel abuse. Allow only economy travel, a per idem for food and land travel expenses, period. No exceptions. If anyone chooses to travel First Class they can, at their expenses( economy fare reimbursement). Elected Officials and top Civil Servants who receive permission to travel should be reimbursed with proper receipts, no receipts no reimbursement.
    Never pay for any expenses for a companion! You can allow them to accompany individuals but at their personal expense.

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  3. Be careful what you wish for. I seriously doubt that the RCIPS have either the necessary in-house skills or (based on their own chaotic professional standards process) the level of impartiality required to handle this proposed investigation.

    This editorial refers ‘to cause to engage in serious investigation’ but that is leaving the RCIPS to turn up the hard evidence, something they have proved to be consistently bad at and a process that perversely the Auditor General is probably far better qualified to complete than they are.

    In fact based on previous events involving the RCIPS, which is not itself the most frugal of organisations, it seems quite likely they will duck the issue by concluding that nobody had actually done anything wrong. Looking at the report one of the problems the police must have is that there were apparently no proper rules in place to control this kind of expenditure at the time it took place so what exactly will they be asked to enforce? It is one thing to conclude that the money was clearly spent unwisely (and I am being polite here) but quite another to prove that it was intentionally misappropriated.

    Operation Tempura has already been mentioned in connection with this – look what happened there. Millions were handed over to private contractors under some very curious arrangements, mostly not even involving CIG, but nothing has ever been done about that. In fact the official conclusion from Duncan Taylor was simply that ‘lessons have been learnt’.

    So where does that leave us? Hopefully, not lumbered with a repeat of Tempura and another huge financial outlay for no tangible results.

    This looks more like a headline grabbing fudge to me than the start of a genuine investigation. Unless we are heading for a TCI-style takeover I bet in six months time this report will be quietly buried and forgotten about.

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  4. In the end all they will be guilty of is incompetence and wasteful spending. Which I am sure most of Cayman’s Politicians have been guilty of for years. With the absence of any rules and regulations in this matter it going to be hard to prove any criminal behavior. If the thought they would be able to convict Bush they already would have done it..

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  5. Hmmm…
    They might truly, honestly don’t understand that they are not entitled to the lavish and extravagant travel. Otherwise, how do you explain the apparent disregard for any appearance of decorum?
    On the other hand, I would somewhat understand if a lower rank employee, in the absence of proper education, travel policy and ethical standards would have a sense of entitlement. But people in a position of control and governance must know what is wrong and what is right. It comes with the position.

    Now, when a controller or a CFO, who is a certified and licensed accountant, signs off unauthorized or self-authorized expenses, he or she violates professional standards.
    If his or her actions are reported to the professional board (if a person licensed in Florida for example, then Florida board of accountancy is his licensing Board), the Board reviews the complaint and may conduct an investigation. If violation is confirmed, the nature and severity of the violation and public harm are taken into consideration. Then, disciplinary actions can be imposed, such as: probation, suspension, revocation, limitation of practice, and fines/costs.
    Here is an example of some acts that constitute grounds for which the disciplinary actions may be taken and penalties imposed and a license to practice public accounting revoked:
    – Committing an act of fraud or deceit, or of negligence, incompetency, or misconduct, in the practice of public accounting.
    -Being convicted or found guilty of a crime in any jurisdiction which directly relates to the practice of public accounting.
    – Failing to maintain a good moral character.
    – Failing to perform any statutory or legal obligation.
    – Making deceptive, untrue, or fraudulent representations in or related to the practice of a profession or employing a trick or scheme in or related to the practice of a profession.
    One is allowed to make an anonymous complaint, in Florida for example, but be sure to supply supporting document.
    The public relies on the integrity, morality and honesty of licensees and certificate holders in providing professional accounting services or professional accounting work.
    Government employment requires hiring responsible people for judicious roles such as managing finances, overseeing processes, inspecting compliance, and protecting people and assets.
    Hiring a CPA or C.A. license holder usually gives an assurance of integrity, morality and honesty. They are held accountable in any jurisdiction, including the Cayman Islands.

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  6. The RCIPS can ONLY take action where there is an allegation that laws have been broken and that does not appear to be the case – why, even Mr Williams, who uses this as a soapbox to berate the RCIPS, admits as much in third paragraph but let’s not stop the facts from getting in the way of a decent rant.
    The Auditor general’s report available on the Compass website does not make such an allegation and only suggests that the Government still needs to develop and implement more practices and procedures, and senior management need to take more responsibility for the effective stewardship of public money.
    This has been rightly highlighted by the Auditor general and it is for those who hold the purse strings (CIG) to look at what he reveals and take appropriate action.
    If there are NO guidelines on what can be spent and what on then these guidelines need to be put in place. It also needs to specify the decision making process and who, ultimately, has responsibility for this.
    While your earlier report mentions that the Auditor General has sent his report to the Anti Corruption Commission for ‘Review’ there is no indication of why he has done this or what he expects them to do. What does review mean in this context? Certainly Section 4, Part II of the law does not really explain this.
    In all likelihood, departmental or Ministerial spending is the responsibility of the head of that department or Ministry. Perhaps an FOI request to each department or ministry asking them to supply details of their policies and procedures on hospitality and travel, would be useful step in reaching the bottom of this.

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  7. Great article, but just newspaper people. I don’t know any other entity in the Cayman island that can reach more people than you do. Please continue to be fair. That is why we read your columns.

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  8. John, if the RCIPS did the half the job they were paid to do I’d be complimenting them on it but right now (and particularly after several recent judgments against them) they are dysfunctional and need to get a grip on reality.

    We care, we listen and we act? You have got to be joking! It’s more like – We don’t care, we don’t listen and we certainly don’t act.

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  9. Simply put – Governments waste money and spend foolishly because it’s not their money. It’s like play money. Monopoly money. Get what you can while you can ! The public purse invites corruption and idiotic spending because there are no real consequences. The public pretends to be outraged…and yet, nothing changes. Nothing really changes until people get really angry. Currently the electorate is ignorant of these issues or only mildly interested.

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