Civil servants fear reprisals
Major areas of responsibility – including the George Town landfill remediation project and government’s public health system – were removed from embattled Minister Osbourne Bodden’s portfolio Friday in a partial reshuffle, presumably in relation to reports of Mr. Bodden’s recent expletive-laden tirade against his former chief officer, Jennifer Ahearn.
Premier Alden McLaughlin offered no explanation to the Cayman Compass for the sudden decision to switch ministerial responsibilities after having stated that Mr. Bodden’s Dec. 10 office tirade, heard by some 20 to 30 staffers, was a “variance of opinion” between Mr. Bodden and Ms. Ahearn.
Meanwhile, two senior civil servants who spoke to the Compass on Friday on condition of anonymity, expressed fears that elected government officials and the deputy governor’s office were seeking to track down what they believed to be “leaks” of information to this newspaper about Mr. Bodden’s behavior during the incident.
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson has declined to comment on any aspect of the situation since the partial ministerial reshuffle was announced on Friday.
Mr. Bodden will remain a minister of government under the new arrangement and will still be responsible for the areas of youth and sports. He will also take over the community affairs ministry, which will be moved from Premier Alden McLaughlin’s remit. Community affairs chief officer Dorine Whittaker will move to Mr. Bodden’s ministry.
Mr. McLaughlin will retain responsibility for the home affairs ministry and will take on the additional areas of health and culture. Ms. Ahearn will remain as chief officer of Mr. McLaughlin’s new ministries. Current chief officer Eric Bush will stay at home affairs.
The premier’s press secretary confirmed Friday that responsibility for the landfill project will shift to Premier McLaughlin’s new ministry. It is believed that Ms. Ahearn will retain her leadership role on that project, but the premier’s office did not confirm that Friday.
Ms. Ahearn released a statement to the Compass on Saturday.
“I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me over the past 10 days for their kind words and messages of support,” Ms. Ahearn said. “The ministry team and I look forward to the opportunity to work with the premier…to continue to help the government meet its remit in the ministry of health and culture.”
Mr. Bodden did not respond to attempts to contact him for comment.
Civil service concerns
The full extent of Mr. Bodden’s Dec. 10 cursing and berating of Ms. Ahearn was revealed in a report sent to Deputy Governor Manderson on Dec. 12. Some of the contents of that report were made public via a Dec. 17 article in the Compass.
The description of the events, which was given in writing to the deputy governor, indicated the following staff recollections of what was shouted at Ms. Ahearn during the brief closed-door meeting on Dec. 10. The statements included: “You aren’t even Caymanian, you are like a piece of f%&king driftwood.”
“You know that I can make your life a living hell.”
“Get out of my face. Get out of my f&%king office. Get out of my f&%king office now.”
According to the description of events that was given to Mr. Manderson, Minister Bodden’s statements were referred to as discriminatory, profane and threatening. The shouting was clearly heard by staff members of other government ministries that share the same office floor and, in the words of one staffer, “If you couldn’t hear [the shouting], you were deaf.”
On Thursday, some civil service staff members were present in a meeting during which concerns regarding the “leaking” of the report to the press was discussed. It was understood that government officials were keen to discover the identity of the individual or individuals who may have released the records.
It was not clear as of press time Sunday which government workers would be assigned to the new ministries. Mr. Manderson was asked Friday what would be done to protect civil servants from potential reprisals. No response was received by press time.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said Friday that he was aware the deputy governor had written confirmation of accusations of what took place on Dec. 10 at the health ministry on the fifth floor of the Government Administration Building, including allegations of various breaches of the penal code and human rights concerns.
“That should be made public,” Mr. Bush said. “The deputy governor should make those things known to the people of these islands.”
Mr. Bush stated a better explanation was needed for the ministerial reshuffle.
“What has [Mr.] Bodden done to get the two ministries taken away from him?” Mr. Bush asked. “What has he done to keep the other two ministries?
“The least that [Mr.] McLaughlin ought to do is explain to the country, what’s this lot about?”
Civil Service Association President James Watler told the Compass Friday that he didn’t have enough information regarding the Dec. 10 incident to make a comment on behalf of the association and indicated his organization largely wished to stay out of conflict.
Mr. Watler put it this way: “A cockroach has no business being in a rooster fight.”
Earlier in the week, prior to the Cabinet reshuffle, the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce requested that government conduct “a full investigation” into the Dec. 10 incident. In particular, the Chamber responded to reported comments that appeared to question Ms. Ahearn’s Caymanian status.
“Anti-Caymanian or anti-foreigner comments destroy [the islands’] harmony,” the statement read. “We need to make every effort to remove these sentiments from our day to day interactions.
“Our collective objective should be to create a more inclusive Cayman for all stakeholders whilst respecting and maintaining our heritage and traditions.”