Opposition: Premier can't 'whitewash' minister's tirade

A 15-year-old Chamber of Commerce intern was present on the fifth floor of the Cayman Islands Government Administration Building last week when Health Minister Osbourne Bodden was heard by dozens of people cursing and berating his ministry’s chief officer behind closed doors.  

According to Chamber representatives and civil service sources, the girl – who was participating in a Chamber mentoring program – heard at least part of the incident in which Minister Bodden hollered curse words at chief officer Jennifer Ahearn during a brief meeting on Dec. 10.  

Multiple sources in the civil service told the Cayman Compass that Ms. Ahearn had gone in to speak with the minister concerning an issue she had emailed him about earlier, and the shouting ensued shortly afterward. What was described as “bellowing” was heard by at least 20 to 30 staffers from different ministries who were in the area at the time.  

Mr. Bodden has since apologized to Ms. Ahearn, the ministry staff and the teenage intern’s father over the incident. He had no further comments on Wednesday. Ms. Ahearn has also declined to comment on the matter.  

Despite repeated attempts by the Compass to contact Premier Alden McLaughlin’s office Wednesday for additional comments about the situation, there was no response by press time.  

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said he simply didn’t have all the facts about what occurred in the ministry offices on Dec. 10. “But based on what has been said so far, I don’t think the premier can whitewash this and say it happens all the time,” Mr. Bush said. “It doesn’t happen all the time.  

“If there was a disagreement to the extent of what is being said, then I think the premier is going to need to address it. You can’t have this situation continuing with the ministry staff. It affects productivity and it affects staff morale.” North Side MLA and former Cabinet Minister Ezzard Miller spoke about the incident on Radio Cayman on Wednesday and broached the possibility of Mr. Bodden resigning his Cabinet position as a result. 

“I don’t think I went so far as to call for his resignation, but I suggested it would be a good example,” he told the Compass after his radio appearance. “If you make a mistake, you must be accountable.” 

However, Mr. Miller said that not only should Mr. Bodden resign, but that Ms. Ahearn should also resign because he doesn’t think the ministry could function properly in the wake of what happened. 

Mr. Miller, a former member of Executive Council [now known as Cabinet], said that by the nature of the way Cabinet ministers interact with their chief officers, differences of opinion happen on a regular basis, but he dismissed the idea that those disagreements escalate to what has been reported regarding this incident. 

“I have never heard of anything like that happening, much less witnessed it,” he said.  

A number of government backbenchers and ministers were contacted for comment Wednesday, but none returned calls or emails.  

On Monday, when asked about the ministry incident, Premier McLaughlin made the following comments: “Sometimes, when you have strong personalities who are passionate about their work, differences in opinion will occur. There was such a variance of opinion between Minister Bodden and his chief officer, for which the minister has already apologized in writing to his chief officer and the ministry staff. 

“The public can rest assured that the matter is being addressed to ensure that the important work of the Ministry of Health, Sports and Culture is not compromised and the several projects being undertaken by the ministry remain on target.”  

A different impression was in the incident description compiled from ministry staff statements that was sent in writing to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson on Dec. 12 – two days after the incident.  

“The staff of this ministry is simply not able to get past this incident and continue to work as usual,” the document indicated.  

1 COMMENT

  1. If what has been reported about this incident is true then it is my opinion that an apology by Mr. Bodden is simply not good enough. Also, Premier Alden McLaughlin’s suggestion that Mr. Bodden’s conduct is the result of strong personalities who are passionate about their work is laughable at best. The Premier goes on to state that the public can rest assured that the matter is being addressed; but as the staff within the ministry have indicated that they are not able to get past the incident the Premier will need to be more specific about what he has done and is doing to ensure that the important work of the Ministry remain on target.

  2. Mr. Miller seriously suggested Ms. Ahearn should resign? What a joke. And he fancies himself and HR expert. He only suggested that to achieve his mission of cleansing the civil service of all those he considers not real Caymanians. Ms. Ahearn is not to blame here and should not be expected to suffer any longer. She is a strong-willed, professional and ethical person who stands her ground and will set a great example for other civil servants as she holds her head high through this mess. The question is whether the Administration (including the political arm of Government) will do the right thing. The Premier better get a solid grip on this before the entire civil service revolts. The service has already lost a few notable and well-respected civil servants as a result of bullying tactics by politicians. This has got to stop and Minister Bodden should leave the service, not the victim.

  3. If the minister stays, (and if what has been published is substantively correct),

    Ms. Ahearn’s (and ALL other staff who decide they can’t work with him) could submit a letter of resignation citing that, which would swiftly be followed by a lawsuit – even though they resigned because of the circumstances it is deemed as unfair dismissal if the employer fails in their duty to adequately protect it’s staff;- Under the Human Rights act there is protection from discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Settlements in the UK have typically been in the 5 and 6 figures.

    From a HR perspective it’s a minefield and the premier needs good legal advice and Quickly.
    ‘The staff of this ministry is simply not able to get past this incident and continue to work as usual’ is not a threat but a warning and the premier ignores it at his peril.

    Might be the best case the minister can hope for now is that the premier believes he’s otherwise done a good job to date and does a re-shuffle, transferring him to another ministry.

  4. The crucial issue here is WHAT he said. The bullying itself could have easily warranted a lawsuit in the U.S.
    But what he actually said is totally different matter for a public official or anyone for that matter. Xenophobia is incompatible with values and principles upon which this country is founded. Manifestation of xenophobia and rasism are penalized in civilized countries.The Cayman Islands government must not deny or trivialize xenophobia but address the issue and this incident promptly to the fullest extent permitted by law.

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