Release of Nation Building Fund audit delayed

A government audit report more than two years in the making is due to be released Aug. 17, detailing expenditures made as part of the former Nation Building Fund established by the United Democratic Party government. 

The report, initially set to be released today, was pushed back in order to give legislators more time to review it. 

As part of the ongoing review by the auditors, a number of Cayman Islands churches were requested in 2014 to give a formal accounting of money they received from the government’s former Nation Building Fund. 

A number of church leaders contacted last summer by auditors confirmed to the Cayman Compass they had received correspondence from Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick’s office requesting information. 

The letters were sent separately to every church in the islands that received Nation Building Fund grants from the previous United Democratic Party and People’s National Alliance government administrations. The letters all concern different grants, but essentially ask church leaders to inform the auditor general how the money they received was spent. 

In order for the investigation to proceed in this case, special authorization had to be given by Governor Helen Kilpatrick because auditors were looking into money spent by nongovernment entities. 

Under Section 60 of the Public Management and Finance Law, the auditor general may pursue such matters, “if he is authorized in writing to do so by the governor in the public interest.” 

The law allows auditors to conduct investigations into the “financial management or affairs of persons, companies and bodies” other than governmental entities once written approval has been given. 

Former Premier McKeeva Bush, whose administration initiated the Nation Building Fund disbursements, said Friday that he was aware the auditor’s report was being released Monday and that he intended to make a brief statement about it. Mr. Bush said he would elaborate on that statement in the Legislative Assembly later this week. 

Allegations of corruption surrounding the Nation Building Fund disbursements from the previous United Democratic Party government have swirled for years in the public domain. Finance Minister Marco Archer said during the 2013 general election campaign that church grants from the fund were more than questionable. 

“Absolutely, unequivocally, I believe that the money that was given to those churches amounts to nothing more than corruption,” he said during a candidate debate in early 2013. “If you look at the way the money was given, it was going to select churches. It was not given publicly, it was given under the table.”  

Mr. Bush has denied such allegations on many occasions and did so again last week. 

A Compass review of grants from the Nation Building Fund between December 2009 and June 2012 found that a total of $9.5 million was spent, with $4.6 million of that going to churches or religious groups. 

According to government records, of the $4.6 million, about half went to two churches, Wesleyan Holiness in West Bay ($1.3 million) and the Church of God in Bodden Town ($1 million). 

In addition to church grants, nearly $3 million was spent in grants to other individuals and organizations. About $1.5 million was awarded to a “Young Nation Building Scholars” fund. 

That means that 48 percent of the Nation Building Fund expenses went to churches, 31 percent went to various grants and 16 percent went to students’ education during the period covered by the Cayman Compass open records request. A number of churches have since returned either a significant portion or all of the Nation Building Fund money they received. 

Mr. Bush
Mr. Bush