House Speaker in ‘possible breach of trust’
Former Cayman Islands Minister of District Administration, Works, Lands and Agriculture Juliana O’Connor-Connolly “directed” in 2012 that government funds should be used to buy a $125,000 property on Cayman Brac, the auditor general’s office reported Thursday.
The purchase was made with “unspent funds” at the end of the government’s budget year, Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick’s report on government land management revealed. The property was in an undeveloped subdivision on Cayman Brac.
“Although a Cabinet paper states the rationale for the purchase as development of affordable housing, the property has never been vested with Sister Islands Affordable Housing nor is there any evidence that the agency was consulted prior to the acquisition,” the audit report states. “[In the referenced case] there is a possible breach of trust as there was no evident government requirement [to purchase the land] whatsoever.”
Ms. O’Connor-Connolly, who is now the Speaker of the House, was contacted for comment about the auditor general’s allegations on Thursday, as was Premier Alden McLaughlin’s office. The Cayman Compass had received no comment from either by press time Thursday.
Mr. Swarbrick said Thursday that he would present the details of his full report on government land management to the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Commission at its next meeting, which had not been scheduled as of press time. He also noted that all members of the Legislative Assembly were given copies of his report three or four weeks ago.
“We’ve had no reaction to the report at this time,” he said.
David Baines, the commissioner of police, chairs the Anti-Corruption Commission and would have the final say on whether any criminal investigation is brought in connection with the findings of the report, pending the advice of other commission members, Mr. Swarbrick said.
The revelation about the Brac land purchases is contained in a section of the auditor general’s report that found government owns 279 parcels of land – worth about $60 million – that are not required for its operations.
The unused Crown land was identified during the government’s Project Future review, and some proposals for sale of excess land are already being considered.
Government officials have indicated that some of these “non-operational” properties are a liability to the public sector because they are used for such things as illegal dumping.
As part of the auditor general’s review, the office looked at a sample of 13 “non-operational” properties and found that at least six had “no link to the strategic objectives of the Cayman Islands.”
In three of the cases, “political direction” was used to pay the owners of the property more than the assessed value.
One of those instances documented by auditors showed that about $3 million was paid for land to create Barkers National Park. The land had an assessed value at the time of $2.2 million.
In another case, the government paid $171,000 for a house next to the Cayman Brac fire station against the assessed value of $142,000.
“The fire station plans to use the house for storage, although it had no pre-existing requirement for additional space,” Mr. Swarbrick’s report read. “Although the property was purchased in 2012, the property transfer is still incomplete and the building is unused.”