Speaker questions PAC role

McKeeva Bush, having donned the wig and robe of Speaker of the House, takes up his new post.

Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush noted a “concern” Wednesday that the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee had overstepped its role in recent months, wading into areas such as employment within the government service.

Accounts committee members, including North Side MLA and Chairman Ezzard Miller and Bodden Town MLA Chris Saunders, have recently queried hiring practices at the Health Services Authority in particular. Both questioned why Caymanians had not been hired to fill specific roles.

Former Chief Officer of the Community Affairs Ministry Dorine McGee [formerly Whittaker] retired early in September, shortly after an accounts committee hearing in which she was taken to task over a number of issues involving welfare services. Government officials did not link Ms. McGee’s departure to the committee proceedings, however.

“The PAC is set up to look at and examine cases and claims to ensure that expenditures deliver value for money,” Mr. Bush said. “The PAC cannot delve into areas of operational responsibilities of the public service. That is not the remit of the PAC.”

Mr. Bush, who was appointed Speaker after the late May/early June formation of the National Unity Government, said if the committee continued to go on such “excursions” it would “have to be brought back to the seat of its responsibilities.”

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“I will ensure the conventions and rules of parliamentary democracy are abided by each and every committee of this Honorable House,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Miller did not make any comment regarding accounts committee matters in response to Mr. Bush Wednesday.

Mr. Saunders acknowledged that “some people were upset at the way [he] attacked the HSA” during a recent committee hearing. During an Oct. 10 PAC hearing, Mr. Saunders accused Health Services Authority officials of “nepotism” in hiring practices: “There’s a culture inside the HSA … that is not in the best interests of good governance and accountability. The friend-friend business needs to stop.”

During Legislative Assembly proceedings this week, Mr. Saunders said that such remarks were not considered outside the norm in other parliaments or the U.S. Congress.

“If you think the PAC here in Cayman is rough, [the civil service] need to take a look at the PAC in the U.K. parliament, because those guys take no prisoners,” Mr. Saunders said.

Thorny issue

About four years ago, the issue of legislators getting into the daily operations of the civil service led to a heated dispute between then-Opposition Leader Mr. Bush and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson.

The dispute concerned issues regarding the hiring at the time of a new managing director at the Information and Communications Technology Authority, an appointment to the registrar of lands position and the appointment of a permanent customs collector, culminating in an argument between Deputy Governor Manderson and Mr. Bush over the customs job.

Seeking to fill the post with a Caymanian appointee, Mr. Bush proposed a motion that would have made the customs department’s budget approval contingent upon hiring a full-time customs collector “from within these islands.”

Deputy Governor Manderson raised lawmakers’ ire with his response to Mr. Bush’s motion, when he was asked about it by another finance committee member. “That motion infringes on the governor’s and my responsibility for the civil service in that we are now putting MLAs in a situation where they are now dictating the requirements, or dictating to me who I should employ, and that cannot be right,” Mr. Manderson said.

Charles Clifford, a former MLA and a Caymanian, was eventually chosen to fill the collector’s position.

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