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.