EDITORIAL – Dial ‘1’ for whistle-blowing

If you spot corruption or other illegal activity in the Cayman Islands, “Who you gonna call?”

Where to begin …

With minimal mental effort, we can easily list more than a dozen real-life options for someone hoping to blow the whistle on misbehavior, misconduct or misdeeds in Cayman. Depending on the underlying details, here’s a directory:

Local police stations

RCIPS Financial Crimes Unit

RCIPS Professional Standards Unit

Office of the Ombudsman (once the appointment is filled)

Human Rights Commission

Labour Tribunal

Gender Equality Tribunal

Office of the Auditor General

Internal Audit Unit

Customs Department

Department of Immigration

Department of Environment

Department of Agriculture

Crime Stoppers

The Chamber of Commerce (which partners with Crime Stoppers to offer monetary rewards in excess of $1,000)

(Must we go on? …)

Accordingly, please pardon our lack of enthusiasm (and perhaps surplus of skepticism) over this week’s announcement that government has contracted with a private accounting firm to provide yet another way for “whistleblowers” to blow their whistles.

As we report in today’s newspaper, the hotline reporting service, operated by accounting firm KPMG, will allow anyone to report suspected fraud, corruption or dishonesty in Cayman’s government. Similar to Crime Stoppers, the KMPG overseas hotline allows tipsters to remain anonymous, which officials say will help protect them from retaliation or negative consequences for turning perceived malefactors.

The intent, according to a statement from government, is to “promote good governance, maintain a culture of honesty and high ethics.”

We’re skeptical. We fail to see how anonymous calls to an overseas hotline run by a private accounting firm will further those ends any better than the many systems that are already in place.

The proposed role of the new hotline is relatively minor. If it’s a non-criminal complaint, the message is forwarded to the Internal Audit Unit. (See list, above.) If it’s criminal, it goes to police.

The problem is not that there are no avenues for reporting — we are entangled in laws, regulations, regulators and more than 100 departments of government, staffed by 6,000-plus public servants. A Sherpa to guide citizens through the maze of government would be welcome.

Frankly, we don’t see how “privatizing” the complaints process will be preferable to promoting (or better yet, pruning) existing reporting mechanisms, and holding the public officials responsible to high standards.

There seems to be an implication that the many civil servants and government officials currently tasked with anti-corruption activities are unable, or unwilling, to do the job.

When the much-discussed Office of the Ombudsman is finally established and staffed, does the KPMG private hotline – paid for by government in a three-year contract – become redundant?

Further, what protections are in place to ensure that overseas operators safeguard the anonymity of Cayman tipsters – or, even more important, protect the innocent who might be targeted by false, malevolent and, yes, anonymous, accusations?

Hotlines, ombudsmen and commissioners aside, if you ever have a serious criminal complaint to report about anyone, inside or outside of government, may we suggest you do something quite simple:

Dial 911.

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