There was no specific policy banning ministers and senior civil servants from putting personal expenses on their government credit cards prior to July 2010, Financial Secretary Ken Jefferson told a Grand Court jury on Wednesday.
Mr. Jefferson acknowledged that he had “made a mistake” when he told police investigating allegations against former Premier McKeeva Bush that there was a policy that cardholders were asked to sign on receipt of their cards.
But he refuted suggestions from Mr. Bush’s attorney Geoffrey Cox, QC, that he had done so to aid the police investigation.
He said he had incorrectly referred to a short memo sent out when the cards were issued as a policy – a mistake he corrected in later interviews.
Taking the witness stand on day three of Mr. Bush’s trial on corruption charges connected to claims the former premier withdrew just under $50,000 on his government card in casinos in the United States and the Bahamas between June 2009 and April 2010, Mr. Jefferson faced extensive cross-examination from the barrister over his statements to police.
At one stage, the QC produced an email sent by a senior officer to Commissioner of Police David Baines concerning a statement that was being drafted based on interviews with Mr. Jefferson in January 2013.
The email read, “Once he signs his statement, he will be committed to our cause.”
“Did you become committed to a cause?” Mr. Cox asked. “Absolutely not,” Mr. Jefferson replied.
The financial secretary conceded, under questioning from Mr. Cox, that his initial statement to police in January 2013 had given the false impression that there had been a specific formal policy on credit card use prior to July 2010.
But he insisted that this was an honest mistake that he had corrected in later statements, though not until more than a year later.
Mr. Jefferson said he had referred to a memo issued with the cards, indicating that receipts and supporting documentation would need to be submitted for use of the card, as a policy and later realized it could not accurately be described as a policy.
Asked what training or instruction civil servants had on how to handle credit card usage, he said government’s “general orders” dealt with allowances that could be claimed by government officials, such as hotels and telephone bills, but there was no specific training in relation to credit cards.
Mr. Jefferson also accepted that when he gave his initial statement, he was aware of the broad conclusions of a government internal audit report on credit card use, being completed around that time, recommending the introduction of a written policy, including an explicit ban on cash advances and personal use. He said a written policy had been introduced in July 2010.
Mr. Cox also produced copies of claim forms, which he said were routinely used by government officials to account for official expenditure on their credit cards up to that time. He drew Mr. Jefferson’s attention to a box on the claim form titled “total charged on corporate credit card due to government for personal use” and a second box to convert the amount from U.S. to Cayman dollars.
The financial secretary accepted that the form, which was required to be completed and signed off by a chief financial officer, suggested that if the card was used for personal purposes, the expenses must be accounted for and paid back.
Mr. Cox also produced a memo from former Accountant General Sonia McLaughlin to all chief financial officers in government which the witness accepted suggested that personal use on government credit cards was allowed as long as it was paid back.
Under re-examination from Duncan Penny, QC, Mr. Jefferson said he did not think that the memo was intended to convey that ministers could use the credit card for whatever spending they felt like as long as they refunded the money.
He agreed with the prosecutor’s suggestion that the “personal use” box could be used to facilitate repayment where officially authorized expenditure, such as a meal, was mixed with personal expenditure, such as a glass of wine, on the same bill.
Mr. Jefferson also testified that he had been called to a meeting at Mr. Bush’s home on Dec. 17, 2012 – after the then-premier’s arrest and a day before a vote of no-confidence was scheduled to proceed against him in the Legislative Assembly.
During that meeting, Mr. Jefferson said, Mr. Bush had asked him to initiate an independent review of credit card use across government and to report on the expenses of the governor and commissioner of police.
He acknowledged that he had sent an email about the meeting to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson and to then-governor Duncan Taylor, but said he was unaware that this had been forwarded by Mr. Taylor to the police commissioner. He agreed that the email included some details of Mr. Bush’s explanations of his use of his government-issued credit card for personal expenses, including crockery, books and security guards for overseas trips.
Mr. Bush has denied 11 charges, including six counts of misconduct in public office, contrary to Common Law, and five counts of breach of trust by a Member of the Legislative Assembly, under the Anti-Corruption Law. All the charges relate to expenses allegedly incurred on his government-issued credit card for “personal use” at hotels and casinos between June 2009 and April 2010.