Spending abuse: 
A swipe against 
the Cayman people

Most people in the Cayman Islands will never enjoy a multi-course dinner at The Ritz-Carlton, or ever see the inside of a suite at a Four Seasons Hotel, or stretch their legs in an expansive (and expensive) first-class cabin on a trans-Atlantic flight.

The nearest most of us will get to Barcelona, Milan and Qatar is a copy of National Geographic, or an atlas at the George Town Public Library.

Most people in Cayman don’t get to experience that kind of luxury. However, that does not mean they don’t get to pay for it.

All the public money that our elected officials and top civil servants have lavished on their foreign exploits (to all corners of the globe) is, we must never forget, our money.

Likewise, all of the records related to their spending on government-issued credit cards — whether it was for business or personal items, reimbursed or not — are our records. The 52 credit cards distributed among public officials are public credit cards, and the public deserves to know exactly how they are being used.

Some of the five current or former ministers, and five current or former chief officers, whose government credit card statements were released via a Freedom of Information Law request, have been candid about their expenses, even eager to provide exculpatory detail in order to avoid possible misinterpretations of their activity — or even the onset of criminal investigations.

Others have not. For more than a week, Compass reporters have been seeking straight answers from East End MLA Arden McLean about the Christmas Eve 2007 purchase, from Kirk Jewellers, of a diamond-studded women’s Ebel watch for US$3,500.

The direct question, posed on talk radio as well as by the Compass, is: “Did you pay back the money for the watch?”

Most of us would expect a one-word reply to that question. Either “yes” or “no.”

Both to the Compass and to his radio hosts, however, Mr. McLean responded with Proustian streams of language that touched on the respective natures of credit vs. debit cards, 30-day billing cycles, scenarios contemplating whether personal credit cards were “maxed out” and on and on.

The question, lest Mr. McLean forget, was: “Did you pay the money back?”

And, if Mr. McLean’s answer is yes, the follow-up question is: “Would you make public the supporting documentation that puts this issue to rest, once and for all?”

Distinct, but similarly unacceptable, ambiguities surround credit card expenditures by House Speaker Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who has previously held the posts of premier and deputy premier.
We call on Ms. O’Connor-Connolly to explain her billing the government (meaning us) nearly $34,000 for hotel rooms on Cayman Brac for her personal assistant/executive aide Paul Leonce.
The question presents itself: What was he doing staying for extended periods at a Brac hotel?

Her explanations shouldn’t be directed to an auditor or a judge, but to her fellow Caymanians who are paying these bills.

The Compass applauds Deputy Governor Franz Manderson for enacting a new policy where all senior-level civil servants will “proactively” publish, on the Internet, official travel and credit card expenses.

However, there ought to be no leaks in the good ship Cayman, and the obvious leak (huge gaping hole?) in this policy is that it does not include elected members and others who are beyond the deputy governor’s remit.

Any new credit card policy must apply throughout the public sector: That means among lawmakers, the core civil service, statutory authorities and government-owned companies.

If the Cayman Turtle Farm and Cayman Airways aren’t included, the policy cannot be said to be adequate or complete.

Consequently, we call on all our officials to follow the deputy governor’s new policy and to declare publicly that they will voluntarily publish all of their government credit card transactions.

We expect that they will — and we presume voters expect it, as well.

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1 COMMENT

  1. So our take away from all of this is from the last two decades of PPM and UDP leadership is:
    -Govt credit cards being used for personal watches/jewelry.
    -Govt gas credit cards being used for personal vehicle use.
    -No decision on the dump in last two decades now that a framework for a solution with one of our citizens has been revoked.
    -A growing disparity between the quality of education between private and public schools (where we will see material social problems within 10 year’s time).
    -A public debt that has grown from 200m to 750m (that includes the authorities).
    -The civil service has had their pension plan owed near 200m for the last decade and will for another decade.
    -A 2004 actuarial estimate of 665m to pay for the future civil service health care which in today’s terms is approx. 1.1b. NOTHING has been set aside for this.
    -55m worth of debt against the Turtle Farm yet has a market value of less than 20.
    -HSA has a doubtful collection reserve of 55m in addition to writing off 10m each year.
    -No decision on the port in the last two decades, but we start working on a few new airports.
    -we have chased away a successful private banking business, and a fund administration business by over taxing and making it increasingly more punitive to do business in Cayman meaning less high quality local employment opportunities.
    -And hence unemployment rates that are high and rising.
    -Cayman Airways that is somewhere around negative 75m in shareholder’s equity.
    -Past leaders that are in all kinds of varying degrees of questionable situations.
    -A large disparity between what the public sector vs us working people get: 12 percent pension all paid by the taxpayer vs the rest of us at 10 percent and the employee pays half, govt employees make no health care contributions while the rest of us employees pay half
    -Civil service personal who do try and enact change, save money or speak out, are at risk at their own peril.
    -Capital expenses in buildings run way way over budget.
    -Any improvements in processing or collection of fees becomes increasing more punitive and time consuming moving away from the basic formula of Cayman’s success: ease of doing business in Cayman.
    -And if I am not mistaken we have become the most expensive offshore jurisdiction to do business in.
    -We still do not have financial statements that the auditors are comfortable auditing.
    -And that the cost of living continues to rise as taxes on gas, imports, utilities, and service fees increase in order to try and pay for this over spending.

    Wow that is quite a scorecard. At what point does it dawn on us that:

    1. This is not working.
    2. That trust and faith has not been earned.
    3. This mess needs to be cleaned up and the longer we wait the more painful it will be, particularly for the young.
    4. That we need a complete change in our thinking, the way the country is run, the way we do business with others, and the way we treat our citizens and our hard earned money.

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