Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush on Wednesday blocked an attempt by political opposition members to bring a contempt of parliament action against government chief officer Jennifer Ahearn.
Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller filed what Speaker Bush said he assumed to be a private members’ motion on June 8 alleging that Ms. Ahearn had knowingly given untruthful testimony to the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee in October last year.
However, on Wednesday, Mr. Miller attempted to move the motion as a “matter affecting privileges of the House” – seeking to recommend prosecution of Ms. Ahearn under section 16 of the assembly’s Immunities, Powers and Privileges Law.
Mr. Bush denied Mr. Miller’s request that sought to hear the issue as a matter of privilege.
“I am not persuaded that the circumstances [of Ms. Ahearn’s case] give rise to any live issue of perjury, or contempt,” Mr. Bush said, essentially determining there had been no breach of privileges, contempt or perjury by Ms. Ahearn during her Oct. 10, 2017 appearance before the Public Accounts Committee.
Mr. Miller’s accusation arising from the October 2017 PAC meeting involved questions he asked Ms. Ahearn about changes made to memberships of government-appointed licensing bodies such as the Medical and Dental Council. Mr. Miller was expressing concern at the time that changes to such boards could loosen criteria for licensing health practitioners.
“I don’t think that there has been a change that we’ve changed the board wholesale,” Ms. Ahearn replied during the October committee hearing. “But again, I am speaking from memory and not from paper in front of me and I don’t know for certain.”
That statement was incorrect, according to Mr. Miller, as the entire Medical and Dental Council was changed on Sept. 12, 2017, about a month before Ms. Ahearn gave her testimony.
Mr. Miller wrote to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, Ms. Ahearn’s boss, asking him to discipline her for the alleged infraction.
Mr. Manderson said earlier this month that Ms. Ahearn’s answers to the Public Accounts Committee could not have been interpreted as “intentionally deceptive.”
Mr. Manderson said there is “no basis” for taking disciplinary action against Ms. Ahearn.
It was unlikely that any private members’ motion on the subject would proceed during the current Legislative Assembly meeting, given the Speaker’s declaration concerning “no live issue of perjury or contempt” and that the matter arose out of a parliamentary committee.
Government officials told the Cayman Compass Wednesday that lawmakers were going to attempt to finish all 16 bills on the assembly’s agenda by Friday and bring the House meeting to a close as early as Friday night, providing scant time for members’ motions and other business.
George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan complained about the short time frame government had allotted to deal with such weighty matters as changes to the Immigration Law, much less numerous members’ motions and questions that are typically asked during legislative meetings.
Typically, lawmakers break for the summer in July and/or August with the House resuming sitting in September.
“So why hold the meeting in the last week in June?” Mr. Bryan asked, alleging that it was an attempt by government to curtail debate.