In a rare step, Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce council members have taken both the elected government and civil service managers to task over a report that revealed possible misspending of public funds on travel and hospitality.
The review, issued by the auditor general’s office Monday, showed specific instances where hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not more – had been spent in questionable ways by the previous government between 2009 and 2012. Some of the spending included limousine rentals for government officials who were listed as being on leave, tens of thousands spent on unexplained hotel stays and other unexplained expenditures.
Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick has given the report to members of the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Commission for further examination. The commission is chaired by Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner David Baines.
“These actions represent a complete disregard for safeguarding of the public purse,” Chamber President Johann Moxam said. “The business community and the general public have faced repeated increases in government fees which resulted in higher cost of doing business and the cost of living while our public officials at various levels were spending our money on lavish trips and alcohol filled receptions.
“This is unconscionable and unacceptable.”
Some of the questionable expenditures noted in the report include:
- $12,500 bar bills for Christmas parties and other functions over three years
- About $34,000 in hotel room costs on Cayman Brac for an “executive aide” to former Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly
- Almost $400,000 for ground transportation spent by the Department of Tourism over three years for limos and SUV rentals in the United States
- $45,000 to send five people to a postal conference in Qatar
- $71,000 to send 43 people to Panama for the inaugural flight of Cayman Airways to Panama City
- $10,000 to rent a property for filming of a television show that never aired
- $10,000 for a retirement party for a senior official in former Premier McKeeva Bush’s office.
Now-Opposition Leader Bush and current Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly were contacted for comment on this story Wednesday, but no response was received by press time.
The report also identified $458,000 in travel and hospitality expenses where the items purchased could not be identified. Civil service financial officers approved a number of payments without receiving proper proof or documentation related to what that money was spent on.
“This demonstrates a failure of good governance at multiple levels and implicates both the elected officials and the public sector,” the Chamber Council statement read. “The council believes that there needs to be disciplinary action taken to show that this level of incompetence or dereliction of duty should not be condoned by the public or ignored by the senior management of the civil service.”
With regard to the purchasing of alcohol for Christmas parties hosted by the former Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development and the former Ministry of District Administration, Works, Lands and Agriculture, chalked up to “hospitality” expenses, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson stated in response to the audit report that the government service had not developed a policy for hospitality expenditures.
Mr. Manderson said civil service rules implemented before the audit was released limit spending on Christmas parties to $25 per government employee. In addition, a travel policy implemented by the deputy governor’s office last year – while supported and accepted by legislators – is not legally binding on members of the Legislative Assembly. Nor does it mandate voluntary reporting of all government travel related expenses.
“The deputy governor should ensure that there are consistent policies across the public service and, if any public official violates these policies, that they are held accountable and sanctioned,” the council statement read. “In extreme instances, this could lead to dismissal for breach of policy.”
When contacted for a response to the audit, Premier Alden McLaughlin noted a new travel policy was implemented in July 2013, which openly sets out rules and criteria for all civil servants. Mr. McLaughlin said the Progressives-led government “readily adopted” the policy since being elected last year.
“My government is committed to good governance practices, transparency and accountability as well as prudent financial practices in seeing that the public’s money is spent only when it is absolutely necessary,” said Premier McLaughlin. “In addition to the travel policy, we have made it a habit to report to the public on the achievements, outcomes and costs of all overseas travel incurred by this administration.”