In order for the execution of the law, justice, and the regulatory process to be seen to be fair, they must be equally applied without regard to political influences. The recent report of Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick into the travel expenses of government does not meet that test.
Conveniently, and politically, Mr. Swarbrick limited the time frame of his examination to the years the UDP government last held office – 2009-2012. Why – even for purposes of comparison – did he not also investigate the previous PPM government’s expenditures – from 2005-2009 or for 2013-2014?
If he had done so, he would have discovered, much to his dismay and, I’m sure, regret that the PPM government spent MORE, not less, on travel and hospitality than the government I headed.
The numbers don’t lie. The actual figures are these:
PPM government travel expenditures from 2005-2009: $11.5 million
UDP government travel expenditures from 2009-2012: $8.6 million
The report further misleads because it does not take into account the fact that I personally had responsibility for 14 different areas of government. All of these responsibilities required substantial travel but especially tourism and finance. These portfolios require face-to-face negotiations, attendance at major events in various financial capitals, and hosting of world leaders.
For an economy the size of the Cayman Islands, and our importance in the worlds of financial services and tourism, it is naïve to think our business can be carried out effectively from behind a desk or, as some have suggested, via Facebook, Twitter, or Skype.
The question, of course, is did the Cayman Islands receive value for money? I believe there is no doubt that it did.
The premier of a country is certainly its lead ambassador and very much its lead “salesperson,” bringing business, capital, and investment opportunities to our islands. Over the previous two decades, no elected member has come even close to McKeeva Bush in attracting major projects to Grand Cayman or assisting in their expansion once they got here. To name a few: the Hyatt Regency Britannia Resort; the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman Resort; Camana Bay and many other Dart-related projects; Cayman Enterprise City; the 11th-hour rescue of both the Westin Grand Cayman Resort and the Marriott Beach Resort; and Health City Cayman Islands (the “Dr. Shetty Hospital”).
One set of travel expenses, the value calculable in the tens of millions of dollars, was the removal of the Cayman Islands from the so-called “grey list” of the OECD. Another was the negotiation of a $185 million loan from an institution in New York which, had it not been derailed by former Governor Taylor and Mr. Swarbrick, would have saved these islands $55 million in interest payments over 15 years. We are now paying nearly 6 percent to a local bank. The rate I had negotiated was 3 percent.
I am convinced that there is a pattern of persecution and prosecution originating the U.K. regarding me personally. As your readers know, I do not shrink from confronting aggressively those in power in the U.K. when I believe they are not acting in the best interests of these islands. They were most displeased with me during the Euro Bank spying operations.
They have retaliated – and I think that is the correct word – by charging me with crimes (which for legal reasons I am not able discuss in any detail) that involve credit card use and abuse (how could it be abuse if even your accusers concede you have reimbursed the treasury for every personal expenditure over the years?). They know that it is common practice, in government and in business, to charge personal expenses to a common credit card and then settle up upon the return from a trip.
Again, has the Auditor General or even the Commissioner of Police ever looked into this practice regarding anyone other than myself?
The Auditor General further attempts to smear me, painting with a broad brush. His report leaves an impression that I, not others in various government departments, was gallivanting around the globe, living a limousine lifestyle at the expense of the taxpayer.
For the record, McKeeva Bush never traveled in limousines (although it would not be improper for the premier of a country to do so). In foreign countries, I usually got about in rented SUVs. Because others handled my travel arrangements, I never saw those transportation records. Transport arrangements were put in place by the Department of Tourism and administered by ministry staff.
I do want to make clear that I believe most government processes can be improved and that I will always support systems coming to the fore that bring about increased accountability and efficiency.
In terms of allocating expenses, Mr. Swarbrick does not distinguish between my “working hours” and my “off-duty hours.”
Does he, or anyone, seriously suggest that the premier of a country is ever “off-duty”?
Does anyone on these islands who knows McKeeva Bush seriously believe that I’m not always on the job for my people? My constituents in West Bay still line up at my home in West Bay in the early morning hours, desperately seeking help – and whenever I am able to, I continue to do what I can for them – either politically or personally. Perhaps that’s one reason I’ve represented my district and my country for more than 30 years. That makes me the longest-serving member in the House.
Governors come and go every three years, and Mr. Swarbrick has been here about four. What they both have in common is that they take their instructions from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I take mine from the people of the Cayman Islands where I grew up – and from my conscience, which I can state before God and my countrymen – is clear.
Can successive governors – and auditors general – say the same?
W. McKeeva Bush, OBE, JP