CAPTION: The champ takes his seat ringside between Premier Alden McLaughlin, right, and Sports Minister Osbourne Bodden. – Photo: TANEOS RAMSAY
Complimentary tickets for Saturday’s Island Rumble – attended by Philippines boxing legend Manny Pacquiao – were being handed out Friday at the Progressives Bodden Town MLA office, according to text messages sent around last week.
The text of the message sent Friday read: “Hello everyone, Happy New Year!!! Tickets for Legend Boxer Manny Pacquaio [sic] will be available at the MLA office tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 6. It is on a first-come, first-served basis so please let us know immediately. The tickets will be provided complimentary by Minister Osbourne Bodden and Minister Wayne Panton.”
Opposition independent MLA Alva Suckoo, also a Bodden Town representative, said Friday that he was “disappointed” in the government for offering the tickets and “playing politics” with the event.
“I recognize that it is election time,” Mr. Suckoo said. “If the Progressives feel this sort of stuff is to their advantage, then they should go right ahead. Boxing tickets do not educate children or feed families. I know they will say it’s ‘sour grapes’ but clearly this was unethical at best. Public funds were used for this event and somehow someone got the idea it was for the benefit of the Progressives.”
The Ministry of District Administration, Tourism and Transport provided a monetary sponsorship for the Island Rumble event, payable to the Cayman Mardi Gras company that organized it. According to the invoice obtained through the Freedom of Information Law, $10,000 has been paid for the sponsorship and another $10,000 was due.
According to event organizer Matthew Leslie, around 20 to 30 complimentary tickets were given to each of the sponsors, including the government.
When contacted about the text message offering free tickets that government received as part of its sponsorship of the event, Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton said he did not send it and was not aware that it had been sent. Mr. Panton said, in any case, he had “nothing to hide” regarding the ticket giveaway.
“This is a very typical sort of thing,” Mr. Panton said. “I’ve seen this happen many times. It’s not unusual to receive complimentary tickets to various events or various activities. I don’t think it’s wrong to say ‘I’m not going, see if someone else is going.’ I didn’t see anything wrong with saying ‘I’m not attending, see if anyone is interested in attending.’”
Mr. Panton said allegations that “hundreds of tickets” for the event were given away at the MLA office were not true. He said, at maximum, some 30-35 tickets would have been distributed. He personally received 10 regular tickets and four VIP tickets.
Minister Bodden was contacted for comment Friday. He had not responded by press time Monday afternoon.
Mr. Suckoo, a one-time member of the Progressives Party before his defection to the opposition side of the House in late December 2015, accused the government of using public events like the Island Rumble and others to their political advantage.
“In all the time that I was supporting boxing as Councilor for Sports, I never took a political or partisan approach and often discussed developments with opposition members,” Mr. Suckoo said. “I never used the sport as an opportunity to campaign or solicit votes, and I am completely against any of us [representatives] using our positions to get a political advantage over opponents. A similar thing happened when [the Progressives] did the ground-breaking for the Beach Bay hotel. Apparently I was taken off the invite list despite being one of the strongest advocates in caucus for the project.”
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who attended Island Rumble with tickets he said he received from a friend, acknowledged that “these things have been done before,” referring to the ticket giveaway. “But at a time when people are losing their homes … it’s not right they should be spending this money,” Mr. Bush said.
The opposition leader confirmed that he did not receive any tickets, or indeed any invitation to attend the Saturday night Island Rumble, from the government.
Mr. Bush also said he thought the boxing event itself was “very political” and noted that he was not even introduced there as a local dignitary, as his position as opposition leader would typically require.
“I am tired of that kind of disrespect they have for a recognized position in the constitution,” he said. “It was a very, very political event. They used it all the way to the hilt.”