“Bad faith” decisions made on behalf of Cayman Islands government-appointed boards will not receive legal protection, Premier Alden McLaughlin declared Friday.
“We’ve had very bad conduct by one former member of the Liquor Licensing Board, Mr. Woody DaCosta, who, among other things, appears to have fabricated [meeting] minutes and, it seems, manufactured a meeting which did not occur,” Mr. McLaughlin told the Legislative Assembly. “Absolutely terrible behaviors … and the Cabinet moved as it needed to and terminated his appointment.”
Mr. McLaughlin’s comments came after lawmakers approved emergency deeds of indemnity Friday evening for members of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority board of directors, as well as for the Liquor Licensing Boards of Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands. Indemnities are personal protections for members of boards or public entity staff members that generally protect them from personal liability arising from any legally erroneous decisions made during the course of their official duties. Put another way, the government or the entity is legally responsible for such a decision, not the person directly.
When contacted by the Compass, Mr. DaCosta declined to comment but referred to a statement he made Monday morning on the radio program Cayman Crosstalk. On that show, Mr. DaCosta repeatedly referred to the premier as “Misleading McLaughlin,” and said the statements made against him were libelous.
“Misleading McLaughlin openly slandered my reputation with misleading statements, such as but not limited to, that I acted in bad faith while acting as chairman of the Liquor Licensing Board for Grand Cayman,” he said. “The government’s very own internal auditors deemed that my actions were made in good faith.”
An Internal Audit Service inquiry into the Liquor Licensing Board published last September determined that Mr. DaCosta and the board acted in good faith, despite finding that the members approved a gas station’s application to sell alcohol on Sundays, then quietly reversed the decision and doctored official records last year.
Commerce Minister Joey Hew said during Friday’s debate on the indemnity measures that last year’s controversy had put prospective board members on edge, after a Liquor Licensing Board decision to first allow, then disallow, the sale of alcohol on Sundays at a local gas station convenience store.
The situation made it “next to impossible” to find replacements for Mr. DaCosta, who was then acting chairman of the board, as well as for the board’s deputy chairman, Mr. Hew said. Eventually, veteran board member Noel Williams stepped in to the chairman’s post.
However, Mr. McLaughlin warned, even with the newly approved legal protections, actions such as those taken by Mr. DaCosta would not be tolerated and could have personal legal ramifications for those involved.
“When you are given a role such as deputy chairman of the Liquor Licensing Board and you behave in such a way, you cannot expect to continue in that role or expect the government to speak on your behalf,” the premier said. “Those actions were actions taken in bad faith. If it has never been said before, the public needs to understand why Mr. Woody DaCosta is no longer the acting chairman or deputy chairman of the Liquor Licensing Board.”
It was not only members of the Liquor Licensing Board who were concerned about personal legal protections.
Financial Services Minister Tara Rivers said Friday that several members of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority board of directors had “expressed a reluctance to continue in their roles” without a deed of indemnity.
The concern, according to Attorney General Sam Bulgin, arises over the adoption of the government’s Public Authorities Law, which regulates the operation of statutory authorities like CIMA.
The Public Authorities Law protects board members from liability arising from decisions, save in cases of bad faith or negligence.
Mr. Bulgin said the word “negligence” was newly introduced in the authorities law and some CIMA board members were concerned it did not offer enough protection.
Lawmakers agreed to issue indemnity protections for CIMA and the liquor board members Friday, but Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders asked what protections might be in place for other board members in Cayman.
The government currently appoints well more than 100 boards and commissions to fulfill various roles within the public sector. “The question is, where do we stop?” Mr. Saunders said.
Mr. Bulgin said it was likely a matter of amending the Public Authorities Law to provide what board members felt was adequate protection, but government has not yet given any indication as to whether it would do so.