Marathon public accounts meetings scheduled this week

Mr. Miller
Mr. Miller

A total of eight reports completed by the Cayman Islands Auditor General’s office between 2014 and 2015 will be reviewed in the space of three days this week.

The auditor’s office announced Tuesday that the Public Accounts Committee would meet to review the reports, which cover a wide variety of subjects, between Wednesday morning and Friday evening. It will be the first time the accounts committee, made up of five lawmakers and chaired by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, has met since October.

This will also be the first accounts committee meeting to be chaired by Mr. Miller since he resigned the post during the former United Democratic Party government’s administration.

The committee, which includes Mr. Miller, government backbench MLAs Joey Hew and Roy McTaggart, independent MLA Winston Connolly and opposition MLA Capt. Eugene Ebanks, will review a number of weighty subjects during the course of their hearings. The panel has the power to summons witnesses, including government ministers, if required.

Land management

This audit from June 2015 revealed, among other things, that former Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly “directed” that government funds be used to buy a $125,000 property in Cayman Brac.

The purchase price, which auditors said had never been formally approved by the Legislative Assembly, was much higher than the property sold for about two years earlier. Ms. O’Connor-Connolly did not respond to Cayman Compass queries seeking comment at the time the report was released.

In addition, the audit questioned development decisions made by government and the Central Planning Authority regarding certain high-profile, high-dollar projects.

Auditors alleged that the appointed boards that advise government on land development decisions do not have open meetings, often do not provide reasons for their rulings and are comprised of appointed members who have potential conflicts of interest with certain development projects.

The planning authorities in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac were reappointed with all the same members shortly after the release of the auditor’s report.

Nation Building Fund

This July 2015 report on a program of the United Democratic Party government alleged a complete lack of financial controls and oversight regarding the former Nation Building Fund that left the government at risk of fraud.

The findings of the report, generally affirmed and supported by Cayman’s civil service, led by Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, were reported to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, which for months had been looking into matters connected with the funds. The outcome of those investigations was not known.

Then-Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick reported that $13.2 million was spent from the Nation Building Fund between 2009 and 2013. The operation of the program was done “outside the government’s own governance framework,” the auditor general said. There was no formal application process for any of the disbursements from the fund, whether for assistance to church programs, scholarships or other expenditures until 2012, when applications for fund scholarships appeared, auditors found.

Money from the Nation Building Fund was spent on the following (among other things): Unfinished church projects, including the construction of buildings, a vehicle, a $3,000 loan for a pastor that remained unpaid at the time of the audit, and $30,000 on refurbishments and planning fees for a gymnasium in West Bay that auditors could never find. The latter represented “an abuse of public funds,” according to auditors.

West Bay MLA McKeeva Bush, who was premier at the time the Nation Building Fund was implemented, called the audit report “entirely fictional.”

IT security

One of the areas of great concern to auditors was that current information technology infrastructure, in many areas, was not sufficient to protect against either external hacking or internal sabotage.

Former Auditor General Swarbrick reviewed IT security in 2012 and found 19 areas in government’s software systems that were judged to be either high- or medium-risk in their vulnerability to attacks on the “confidentiality, integrity and availability” of the government’s systems. High-risk areas were defined as those that posed an immediate risk and threatened the operations, finances or reputation of the government.

Four “high level” risk areas were generally identified in the auditor’s review as external vulnerabilities from individuals on the Internet accessing data without user names and/or passwords; internal vulnerabilities from users within the government accessing databases they should not have access to; and concerns that cyberattackers were able to gain “administrator-level access” to government computer servers from inside the systems.

The 2012 audit of government computer security issues was not published because of concerns it would have alerted hackers or others who wished to do the Cayman Islands harm. Auditors urged government officials to address the problem at that time. They did not do so.

A follow-up review in 2015 found that the problems with government’s IT security had gotten worse. Nine areas in the government IT systems were identified as high risk last year and 11 others were considered medium risk. Additional problems included the use of outdated and unsupported software programs and significant vulnerability of sensitive government information to potential cyberattacks.

It will be the first time the accounts committee, made up of five lawmakers and chaired by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, has met since October.