Ministry of Education: Way over the limit 
on credit cards

If the saga surrounding the trial and acquittal of former Premier McKeeva Bush has taught us anything, it’s the menagerie of approaches that Cayman Islands public officials have taken in regard to using government credit cards for personal purchases.

Here are three we have identified:

Never use a government credit card for personal purchases – aka, “the Franz Manderson position.”

You can use it for personal expenses, as long as you pay it back – the informal “policy” (or lack thereof) that prevailed in previous administrations, and still appears to be the case in statutory authorities and government-owned companies.

You can use it, but only for certain things, as long as you pay it back, within a set amount of time.

Now, the Ministry of Education has added a fourth: It’s none of your business.

Our umbrage over the Ministry of Education’s continuing refusal – anomalous among Cayman’s public sector entities – to release detailed records on government credit card expenses has little to do with money.

It has everything to do with the attitude of entitlement, arrogance and unaccountability pervading one particular ministry.

An individual (not connected to the Cayman Compass) filed an open records request under the Freedom of Information Law for information on government credit card purchases since 2005. In an attempt to deny that request, then-Education Ministry Chief Officer Mary Rodrigues wrote: “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.”

Does Mrs. Rodrigues really hold the intelligence of Cayman’s people in such meager esteem that she thinks we will believe that revealing how school officials are spending public funds might – as she went on to write in the same response – “prejudice the security of the islands”?

Say what you will about the controversial credit card purchases revealed by other ministries – including on slot machines, diamond-studded watches and extended Cayman Brac sojourns – but the Ministry of Education has taken the practical philosophy of unaccountability to a different level altogether.

In essence, Mrs. Rodrigues and Ministry of Education officials have declared that not only can they use their government credit cards for anything they wish, but that we, the people, have no right to know what they’ve been spending our money on, and further, they are willing to spend however much more time and public money in their crusade to deny us that right.

Few things come to mind that would constitute a greater or more outrageous affront.

The Ministry of Education’s stubborn and deliberate insistence on providing only lump sum totals, rather than details on individual purchases, has done nothing to promote clarity; rather, it serves to obfuscate and obscure, even perhaps lending an air of disrepute to transactions that could very well be wholly legitimate.

For the record, here’s what we know: From 2005-2007, then-Education Minister Alden McLaughlin spent more than $40,000 on his card. From 2005-2009, then-Education Chief Officer Angela Martins charged more than $151,000 on her card. We know nothing about charges by ex-Education Minister Rolston Anglin, who served from 2009-2013. Mrs. Rodrigues, herself, used her card very sparingly from 2009 to 2014 – as has current Education Minister Tara Rivers.

Now that Mrs. Rodrigues is no longer in the ministry, the onus of ensuring transparency falls squarely upon Minister Rivers and her acting chief officer, Christen Suckoo.

They can – and should – end this nonsensical dispute immediately by releasing those government credit card statements. It’s our money. Not theirs.

1 COMMENT

  1. You see Mr editor, what has happened is that a lot of people is still having pain-a-belly because they felt 100% sure that the Bush saga would bring him out guilty and of course none of this would have came to light.
    Now, we are standing in a big pile of mess, no one wants to clean up. So the only thing I see happening is that it is going to be one bigger mess come next election. Even bigger than finding where to put the dump.

  2. When you are not accountable, you do as you please and these people have done exactly that. No one is concerned about the piggy bank until its empty.

  3. The FOI law grants the public the right of access to a ‘record’ held by government. In other words, when an agency ‘conceals’ information on a ‘record’ where that information is not exempted, then that agency is breaching paragraph d of 55.1 of the FOI law.

    Section 55 which reads:
    ‘A person commits an offence, if in relation to a record to which a right
    of access is conferred under this Law, he-
    a. alters or defaces;
    b. blocks or erases;
    c. destroys; or
    d. conceals,
    the record with the intention of preventing its disclosure.’

    Section 55.2 ‘A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to a fine of one hundred thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment.’

    Nothing on a government credit card statement should be withheld from the public.

  4. I have no sympathy for them, they opened Pandora’s box when they started using this as a tactic to destroy Bush. The question to the Gov should be if this was not a personal vendetta against Mr Bush as suggested, then why was he the only one arrested and charged with a crime when it is clearly a fact that they all were using their CIG issued Cards for personal use. Also, why was his usage of the card so easily released to the press along with accusations of theft conveniently around election time. This all seem very fishy and personal agenda driven and clearly casts a shadow of shame on the UK leadership. I also now proves to me that their intention was just to conspire to unseat a democratically elected premier that they did not approve of.

    By now it should be clear as to all what that whole sham was about. It’s a shame that most people can’t see past their hatred for Mr Bush and realize the injustices that were done here.

    And Alden of all people who so vocally criticized Mr Bush should be more than willing to explain his use of the card if he has nothing to hide just like Mr Arden did, He admitted that he used the card to buy a 3500 watch for his wife and then showed where he paid it back because he new it was not against policy and had nothing to hide.

    In my opinion the least thing that they could to to put this to rest is to do a full scale audit of all CIG issued credit cards to make sure everyone paid back every dime they owed including interest and fees. If they didn’t they should have to pay it back now with interest as well as a late fee or face criminal charges.

  5. Could the real reason be that the original charge records have been lost or destroyed?. This problem has been identified in past Government audits in various departments and has necessitated the Auditor General issuing qualified opinions on their financial statements.

  6. Seems like a crazy question, but, Don’t these guys have their own cards?

    If so, why would they use a Government card for personal purchases.

    Maybe that should be a criteria for getting a CIG card.

    If there is a reason why someone would not qualify to receive a personal credit card, maybe they shouldn’t be issued a Government one…?

    In the private sector it is not uncommon to use a personal card for business expenses which are then reclaimed – Of course you have to be reimbursed in a timely fashion.

  7. CYA. Thats the official stance. It stands for Cover Your A. Its all politics in government especially for the higher posts.

    We dont want to look bad so we’re not going to say how we spend what is essentially hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash. That would open too many doors of doubt and I wanna keep my fatcat salary, position and pension.

    They are right that their purchases could be construed as abuse of privilege aka the Mac Attack and be subsequently fired, arrested and dragged through the mud on a whim.

    Seems like they need something to guide them as they seem to be unable to nail down exactly whats illegal and not.

  8. What I find amusing about this is that CIG monitored the Operation Tempura expenditure when it was being done on repayment basis to the Met and actually refused to reimburse about GBP10,000 in claimed expenses that there were no receipts for.

    That suggests that the financial checks and balances are actually in place but are being used very selectively.

    Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Know what I mean?

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