More details emerge in minister-’directed’ land deal
The Cayman Islands government paid nearly 50 percent more for land purchased on Cayman Brac in 2012 than the same parcel sold for in November 2010, a Cayman Compass examination of local property records reveals.
Cayman Islands Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick raised questions in a recent report about the government land purchase, and others, concerning whether the public sector got value for money.
In the Brac land purchase, Mr. Swarbrick said former Cayman Islands Minister of District Administration, now Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, “directed” that government funds be used to buy the property for $125,000. The purchase was made with “unspent funds” at the end of the government’s budget year, auditors were told. The 2.1-acre property is in an undeveloped subdivision in Cayman Brac East.
The same land had sold about 20 months earlier for a much lower price, according to property records examined by the newspaper.
The initial land sale was registered on Nov. 22, 2010. It was sold by Cayman Brac business owners Garston Grant, Dervyn Scott and Hyacinth Scott to two George Town residents, David Mark Ebanks and John Elderson Evans. The land was purchased for $85,000 at the time.
The agreement for sale on the property indicates that an initial deposit of $4,000 was paid and that the remainder ($81,000) would be financed by the sellers on terms that it would be paid off in installments of $500 per month over the next 162 months – just over 13 years. The sellers did not charge interest on the financing, according to the agreement.
Mr. Grant said Wednesday that he and his partners in the initial land deal had intended to foreclose on the property at one stage due to the buyers not making some of the payments. However, he said their attorneys – the Bodden & Bodden law firm – intervened and assisted in resolving the matter.
Mr. Scott said he believed the two buyers, who were not Cayman Brackers, intended to use the land as a “retirement property.” Messrs. Ebanks and Evans could not be reached by press time Thursday.
Government property records show that the “Governor of the Cayman Islands” [the Crown] bought the 2.1-acre parcel outright on the registered sale date of Aug. 14, 2012 for $125,000.
The Cayman Compass sent questions to Speaker O’Connor-Connolly as well as government Ministry of District Administration officials Wednesday seeking an explanation for why the sale price of the property had increased 47 percent in less than two years. Also, the Compass asked for what purpose the government intended to use the property.
No responses had been received by press time Thursday.
Mr. Swarbrick’s office indicated that it had determined no practical requirement for the government to have bought the land in 2012.
“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 released on July 23 stated. “[In the referenced case] there is a possible breach of trust as there was no evident government requirement [to purchase the land] whatsoever.”
Mr. Swarbrick said he would take the matter to the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Commission at its next meeting. Ms. O’Connor-Connolly was also contacted about the allegations in the auditor general’s report on July 23. She has not responded. Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin’s office also did not respond to Compass requests for comment on the auditor’s report.
The Compass contacted Sister Islands Affordable Housing Development Corp. Chairman Sidney Ebanks on Wednesday regarding the property purchase. After looking up the referenced property, he told the newspaper he wasn’t sure what the property was intended for and that no affordable housing projects had been started there.