Announcement made amid lawmakers’ criticism
Alastair Swarbrick, the Cayman Islands auditor general for the last five years, announced his resignation Wednesday morning just as he was on the receiving end of some sharp public criticism from Cayman’s political opposition leader.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush had accused Mr. Swarbrick of “recklessly” misusing the power of the auditor’s office to damage the reputation of the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Swarbrick declined on Wednesday to respond to Mr. Bush’s accusations, but he said he would do so at a later date.
Cayman Islands Governor Helen Kilpatrick said in a statement released Wednesday that she “reluctantly” accepted Mr. Swarbrick’s resignation and thanked him for his “professionalism and integrity” on the job since his appointment in 2010.
Mr. Swarbrick, 47, who had a contract in Cayman through July 2016, has accepted a position as a senior policy adviser for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development based in Paris. He is now due to stay in the Cayman post until early October.
Mr. Swarbrick confirmed Wednesday that he had begun applying for the OECD job in January and that his decision to resign had “nothing to do” with any current issues or accusations.
“At times there have been challenges, and no doubt there will continue to be many more for my successor, but hopefully I leave behind an office that is better placed to deal with them [and] which can support and encourage the public service to continuously improve,” Mr. Swarbrick said.
Mr. Swarbrick’s office has released a number of high-profile, controversial reports in the last several weeks. Those included evaluations of the government high schools construction debacle, failures to properly monitor social welfare spending, and the most recent report that questioned whether government officials’ actions in two major development projects were lawful.
Opposition Leader Bush was in the process of making a “personal statement” in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday morning denouncing Mr. Swarbrick’s office when the auditor general’s resignation was revealed.
“Good riddance,” Mr. Bush said in response to the announcement, which was brought to his attention by Premier Alden McLaughlin.
Mr. Bush’s statement on Wednesday questioned whether the auditor general had the legal authority to reach some of the conclusions in the report that evaluated various government land management decision-making processes. The audit reviewed, among a number of other land deals, the National Roads Authority agreement between the government and the Dart group of companies and the Health City Cayman Islands agreement.
“The auditor’s reckless misuse of his position has seriously damaged the reputation of the Cayman Islands by calling into question any agreement that a foreign investor who wishes to invest in the Cayman Islands may make with government,” Mr. Bush said in the Legislative Assembly Wednesday. “I would argue that the auditor general has done what he accused the Cayman Islands government of doing, by exercising a role that he has no legal authority to exercise.”
The audit, which was publicly released last month, stated that the Cayman Islands government acted unlawfully and “without proper authority” in signing two of the territory’s largest-ever private sector development agreements. The original National Roads Authority agreement, which paved the way for construction of a Kimpton hotel and the permanent closure of a section of West Bay Road along Seven Mile Beach, was negotiated by elected ministers “without the knowledge or assistance of civil servants,” the report further stated.
Mr. Bush’s dispute regarding the land management audit is essentially that it was not a “financial audit” but rather that it delved into areas of legality and governance concerning project decision-making and funding that heretofore had been the purview of Cayman Islands courts.
“I doubt the Cayman Islands Constitution expected to confer that authority on the auditor general,” Mr. Bush said.
In addition, Mr. Bush said the auditor general’s office had misconstrued or misunderstood the role of Cabinet ministers and senior civil servants. In seeking to define this role, Mr. Bush read section 44(3) of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order (2009): “The Cabinet shall have responsibility for the formulation of policy, including directing the implementation of such policy … ”
“The auditor general’s perception of governance structure is fundamentally at odds with the Westminster doctrine of the separation of powers as reflected in the [Cayman Islands] Constitution,” Mr. Bush said. “It introduces a fourth arm of government: [civil service] chief officers who actually deliver policy outcomes. Chief officers, like other civil servants, are under the direction of Cabinet in general and relevant ministers in particular.
“The auditor general had no legal basis to make an assessment regarding the legality of the Health City and NRA agreements,” Mr. Bush said. “His reliance on the narrow focus of the Public Management and Finance Law, instead of the Cayman Islands Constitution, casts serious doubt on the reliability of his report.
“What seems to motivate the auditor general is a profound distrust of politicians. His answer is to keep politicians as far away as possible from developers by having senior civil servants undertake operational decision-making. Why is it assumed that civil servants would be above question or be above corruption?”
The audit report referred to some of the issues addressed by Mr. Bush in the House on Wednesday. For example, government officials acknowledged that elected ministers had played a greater role in relation to these two projects than typically prescribed. However, the unnamed officials noted that, in their view, “It is not practical to exclude ministers from them, regardless of the governance framework of the Cayman Islands government” due to the “national importance” attached to such projects.
Mr. Swarbrick said in late July that he “had some sympathy” for the position expressed in that statement.
“This is a challenging issue and it’s something we continue to see across most of our audits,” he said. “Where does the political responsibility start and stop? There needs to be an open and frank discussion around that.”