A disagreement over reimbursement for cellphone charges apparently led to a Dec. 10 expletive-packed tirade by Cayman Islands Minister Osbourne Bodden against his chief officer that was overheard by at least 20 to 30 staff members, according to government emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Law.
The records also reveal the full text of Minister Bodden’s emailed apology to Ms. Ahearn that was copied to a number of staff members the day after the verbal tirade.
According to records released to the Cayman Compass on Tuesday, Minister Bodden emailed then-Health Ministry Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn at 7:34 a.m. on Dec. 10 seeking confirmation that at least a portion of two cellphone bills for him would be reimbursed. The minister appeared to be growing impatient on the issue because he hadn’t received “the courtesy of” a reply for two weeks.
“I am requesting reimbursement of a minimum of 50 [percent] of the amount paid on each [cellphone bill], for Gov’t business expenses,” Mr. Bodden wrote. “I would like this confirmed this am, and a cheque asap for this amount (pre Chmas)!!!
“Ps: I think I have explained this well enough on previous occasions to not have to repeat.”
Ms. Ahearn replied at 10:14 a.m. on the same day, apologizing for not getting back to the minister sooner and indicating that she and the ministry’s chief financial officer had been “investigating” the matter.
“Unfortunately, it is not a straight forward situation for a few reasons,” Ms. Ahearn wrote.
Ms. Ahearn noted that the minister already had a Cayman Islands government cellphone, which was able to receive emails, and that there should be “minimal/no need for your personal phone plan data to be used for your CIG email/official business.”
She also noted that the personal phone bills presented for payment had not been itemized in a way that auditors could easily identify what calls or uses were personal and which were for government business.
“An added complication is that you have indicated as estimated percentage of costs that you believe are official that you should be reimbursed for and we do not really have any basis for that estimation,” Ms. Ahearn wrote.
Data collected by the ministry indicated Mr. Bodden’s government cellphone was being used to receive data at around the same time his personal phone was being used “for the periods in question.”
Ms. Ahearn and the chief financial officer spoke to other ministries regarding what they had done in similar situations. She said they were advised that other government ministries and portfolios would only reimburse an employee’s personal phone for periods during which the government-provided phone was out of service or not working.
“Similarly when I spoke to some of my colleagues, none of them indicated that they had received similar requests…and those I spoke to confirmed that they would not expect to get such a request as a Cayman Islands government phone has been provided,” Ms. Ahearn wrote, acknowledging that she had not done a “full census” of chief officers.
Ms. Ahearn then asked Mr. Bodden if he could receive more detailed cellphone bills from LIME listing the itemized charges. She asked to meet with the minister and chief financial officer to “brainstorm” and resolve the issue.
No evidence of a reply email from Mr. Bodden was included in what was sent to the Compass on Tuesday. However, the newspaper has reported on the closed-door meeting that occurred at 12:20 p.m. on Dec. 10, in which Mr. Bodden was heard screaming curse words at and berating Ms. Ahearn.
The next day, Dec. 11, Mr. Bodden sent out an emailed apology to Ms. Ahearn, copied to a number of ministry staffers.
Here is the unedited text of the apology:
“Good am Jen – your email yesterday am made me feel like both a liar and a thief (albeit maybe not your intention), of which I’m neither. That’s one thing that makes me see red. I am sorry for the outburst, but yesterday in particular I was dealing with a lot of personal issues, including health ones, and I lost it.
“I regret the loud, embarrassing shouting at you as I should have handled more professionally in hindsight. I apologize to both you and the staff for this, and I regret this ever happened.
“I hope we can all get pass this and continue to work for the betterment of these islands.”