Cabinet quiet on Bodden outburst

Nearly two weeks after the tirade of former Health Minister Osbourne Bodden against his chief officer, Premier Alden McLaughlin indicated on Monday that he did not wish to say anything further on the matter, noting he had already announced on Friday the government’s decision to reshuffle Cabinet responsibilities between himself and Mr. Bodden. Most MLAs on the government bench, and all ministers, have declined to comment separately about the situation. The few who did speak to the Cayman Compass from the government side all voiced support for Mr. McLaughlin.  

“We’ve obviously given the premier our confidence, along with the deputy governor,” said Progressives backbench MLA Joey Hew.  

Long-time Progressives party stalwart, Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden, said he and fellow MLA Alva Suckoo met with Minister Bodden on Friday to discuss what had happened.  

Mr. Eden called what had occurred “most unfortunate.”  

“I still need to find out exactly what went on,” Mr. Eden said. “Certainly more diplomacy could have been used. I’m sure [Mr. Bodden] will have learned his lesson.”  

There was no response by press time Monday from any of the Coalition for Cayman-supported candidates, including Gender Affairs Minister Tara Rivers and George Town MLAs Winston Connolly, about their views on what occurred.  

George Town MLA Roy McTaggart, filling in for Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton this week, said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the situation in his current capacity as acting minister.  

Civil servants as ‘whistleblowers’ 

Cayman Islands civil servants who reported the angry outburst of former Health Minister Bodden against his chief officer to the deputy governor earlier this month could be considered “whistleblowers” and should be afforded protections – to the extent any exist – under current Cayman Islands law, Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams said Monday.  

The current lack of stand-alone legislation to protect those reporting wrongdoing in Cayman was the subject of a lengthy report released earlier this year from Ms. Williams’s office. Government has supported enacting such laws, drafts of which have been circulated for public comment.  

However, that legislation has not been passed by lawmakers, and Ms. Williams has previously opined that current protections of whistleblowers are scattered throughout various pieces of local legislation, which might generously be described as vague.  

Under the proposed Protected Disclosures Bill, a person who wants to report wrongdoing can go to a “designated authority” – including the police commissioner, auditor general or complaints commissioner – and must do that prior to going to the media in order to be afforded protections.  

Without the benefit of that stand-alone legislation, Ms. Williams said, “your only other recourse would be to go to the media.”  

The key question in determining whistleblowing is whether Minister Bodden’s actions, as reported by civil servants, amount to “wrongdoing,” which could include breaches contained in the civil servant Code of Conduct, although as a minister, Mr. Bodden is not a civil servant and cannot legally be held to that code.  

The code states that “a public servant must not, at any time, engage in any activity that brings his ministry, portfolio, statutory authority, government company, the public service or the government into disrepute.”  

The code of conduct also bans civil servants from “directly or indirectly disclosing information” which comes into their possession in an official capacity unless they are authorized to do so” by the code, the whistleblowing section of the Freedom of Information Law [2007] or any other law in the Cayman Islands.  

If civil servants did “go to the press” with information about Mr. Bodden’s cursing and berating of his former chief officer on Dec. 10 – an incident that was heard by some 20 to 30 people in the immediate vicinity – they could be in violation of the code, but only if they were determined not to be whistleblowers under existing laws.  

“My question for the government would be, why? Why do you want to find about who released the story to the press,” Ms. Williams said. “There may be a good reason, but why do you want to?”  

That question remained unanswered at press time. Deputy Governor Franz Manderson has declined to comment on any aspect of the incident since Friday. He did not respond to questions regarding the protection of government workers from potential reprisals over perceived “leaks” of information to the press.  

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