Ministry of Education refuses to release documents after McKeeva Bush trial
Specific credit card expense records dating to 2005 and covering three elected ministers’ tenures in office in the Cayman Islands Ministry of Education continue to be withheld following the end of former premier McKeeva Bush’s criminal trial. The Cayman Compass reported in September that records related to at least two former education ministry officials, Minister Alden McLaughlin and chief officer Angela Martins, had been released following a private citizen’s Freedom of Information request.
Those records provided no clarity concerning what was purchased with the cards, beyond stating that former Education Minister McLaughlin’s government credit card charges between July 2005 and December 2007 totaled $40,384.27, while his former chief officer Ms. Martins’s card charges totaled $72,082.26 during the same period. Additional charges recorded for Ms. Martins’s card in 2008 totaled $59,324.84 and another $19,858.04 through June 2009.
Credit card expenses for former chief officer Mary Rodrigues and current Education Minister Tara Rivers were also released, but those statements showed very little activity on the government cards. For instance, Ms. Rivers’s card revealed total charges of less than $400 since she took office in May 2013. The specific items charged to the card were not revealed.
No record was made available to the Compass concerning former Education Minister Rolston Anglin’s credit card use during his term.
Argument against disclosure
According to open records request responses sent to the private citizen who sought the documents, former education ministry chief officer Mrs. Rodrigues argued against the disclosure of the Royal Bank of Canada credit card statements.
“I consider the government’s duty to protect public funds and to take all actions necessary to protect the security of all financial instruments to be a very important factor against disclosure,” Mrs. Rodrigues wrote.
Number of reasons cited
The response cited a number of reasons why specific credit card charge information – including Royal Bank of Canada credit card statements – could not be released by the education ministry. These included a claimed exemption of information in cases where “disclosure would prejudice the security of the islands” and another exemption where “disclosure … relates to law enforcement – the trial of any person or adjudication of any case.”
Mrs. Rodrigues’s response was made prior to the end of Mr. Bush’s trial, in which it was alleged he had used government credit cards in attempts to seek personal enrichment. Mr. Bush was acquitted by unanimous jury verdict in October.
Open records request appealed
According to records obtained by the Compass, the ministry has continued to seek exemption of the credit card records in a “vague and unconvincing” manner. “The ministry states that the release of the statements, even in redacted form, would leave the government at financial risk,” according to an Oct. 28 email from a government official to the information requester. “I am not able to convince them otherwise or obtain more details in regards to their reasoning.”
The open records request has been appealed to the information commissioner’s office, the Compass understands.
Mrs. Rodrigues’s response was made in the context of several other ministries releasing government credit card statements for ministers and chief officers – typically identifying the cardholder’s name on the records.