Auditor 'disappointed' in planning board reappointments

Cayman’s outgoing Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick said he was “disappointed” to learn, after reading the Cayman Compass, the members of the Central Planning Authority and the Sister Islands Development Control Board were reappointed following a damning audit released by his office earlier this year.

“I looked at that and I chuckled to myself slightly when that appeared,” Mr. Swarbrick said. “From my perspective, that creates significant challenges to good governance.”

Mr. Swarbrick, whose last day in office was Wednesday, indicated that he did not seek to raise the issue with any government ministers, stating “there wasn’t any point in trying to do that.”

“I was disappointed. I think the language in my office was slightly stronger than that at the time,” he said.

The Compass reported last month that all serving members of the Central Planing Authority on Grand Cayman were reappointed in the wake of Mr. Swarbrick’s report that raised critical questions about the authority’s operations and the personal interests of board members.

The one-year reappointment of the authority’s 13 members was effective Aug. 1.

The auditor’s office reported in July that the appointed boards advising government on land development decisions are not holding open meetings, often do not provide reasons for their rulings and are made up of members who have potential conflicts of interest with certain development projects.

Members of the Cayman Brac and Little Cayman Development Control Board were also reappointed with all currently serving members, shortly after the auditor’s report was released.

The auditor general’s office had looked into whether decision-makers on the two development boards were free from the appearance of, or actual conflicts of interest as part of his review of the overall planning and land use process in the Cayman Islands.

The Central Planning Authority has guidelines for members of the board to declare any conflicts and recuse themselves from meetings until matters related to their business, or the business of a close relative, are completed. However, those guidelines do not impose sanctions if board members do not follow the rules, nor do they require members to disclose financial interests in businesses at any time, Mr. Swarbrick noted.

The adoption of the Standards in Public Life Law in 2014 was due to introduce disclosure requirements for appointed board members, but the law was never put into effect.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said last year that concerns from various appointed board members forced government to rewrite sections of the law. Updated legislation has not been brought before the House, although Mr. McLaughlin has said it is a priority for his Progressives-led government.

“The great majority of members of the Central Planning Authority appointed since August 2013 were from the development and construction industries,” Mr. Swarbrick’s report found. “While providing expertise to the Central Planning Authority, this creates a high risk of conflicts and also adversely affects the appearance of freedom from conflict.”

Corruption issues

Mr. Swarbrick was asked during his final press conference in Cayman Wednesday how great a problem corruption was in the Cayman Islands.

The auditor indicated that the issue was more about whether Cayman’s government had the proper systems in place to guard against corrupt acts within the public sector, as well as outside of it.

“All jurisdictions have fraud and corruption, there’s no getting away from that,” he said. “Whether it’s worse or better in the Cayman Islands … I cannot provide any objective evidence around that.

“[The audit office reports] keep talking about the risk of fraud and corruption. Government has to do more in minimizing the opportunity for these things to happen.”