Cayman Islands Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller has questioned whether the public spokesperson in the investigation of withdrawn Governor Anwar Choudhury – Head of the Governor’s Office Matthew Forbes – is the same person who filed complaints against the absent governor.
The issue, raised in a July 27 memo to Acting Governor Franz Manderson, is one that many in the Cayman public service have raised privately since the Cayman Compass reported that staff complaints had been filed with the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office against Mr. Choudury, causing him to be “temporarily withdrawn” after just two-and-a-half months in office.
The foreign office has confirmed, following an open records request made by the Compass, that it has received complaints from the Governor’s Office staff, but it declined to release those complaints citing privacy concerns.
In his July 27 memo to Mr. Manderson, Mr. Miller notes that an attempt by the acting governor and Mr. Forbes to quell community concerns via a “letter to the editor” to local media outlets sent on July 26 had done the opposite.
“If indeed the ‘Head of the Governor’s Office’ is also the chief complainer, the signing of the [July 26] letter would amount to a one-upmanship over [Mr. Choudhury] that would all but concede that the complainer was justified,” Mr. Miller wrote. “This would fly in the face of your letter’s assertion that the foreign and commonwealth office was committed to an ‘investigation … that is fair to all.’”
“In the larger picture, this whole spectacle, as underscored in your letter, creates further alienation in U.K./Cayman relations and trust.”
Mr. Manderson and Mr. Forbes were asked to comment on the claims made in Mr. Miller’s memo. The acting governor said Saturday that he and Mr. Forbes had no further comment beyond their July 26 letter to the editor.
Governor Choudhury, who arrived in Cayman to much fanfare on March 26 as the British Overseas Territory’s first Muslim governor and first non-British born governor, made an early impact in his term.
During an interview with the Cayman Compass the week before he was temporarily withdrawn, he spoke of his desire to assist Cayman in its dispute with the U.K. over the Mother Country’s intention to force a public register of company ownership onto its territory. Mr. Choudhury also spoke openly of his plans to change the Cayman civil service, making it more responsive and less bogged down in bureaucratic paperwork.
By June 12, Mr. Choudhury had been “temporarily withdrawn” by the U.K. foreign office, which cited an investigation into unspecified complaints proceeding against the governor. Attempts to reach Mr. Choudhury made by the Compass since then have not been successful.
Mr. Miller also sent a letter dated July 27 to Lord Tariq Ahmad, the British Overseas Territories Minister, which noted his concerns about the reverberations caused by Mr. Choudhury’s sudden and unexplained removal.
“While in the past governors were summoned to the UK for consultation and advice, we have never had a governor to be ‘withdrawn’ pending an ‘investigation,’” Mr. Miller wrote to Lord Ahmad. “Such nebulous and loaded language has spawned widespread speculation and suspicion in the community about the treatment of Mr. Choudhury.
“Those community concerns have been heightened by Mr. Choudhury’s popularity across all strata of the population, who had experienced the new governor as a breath of fresh air offering hope for much needed change.”
Head of Governor’s Office
Mr. Miller’s memo to Mr. Manderson also questioned the leadership role apparently assigned to Mr. Forbes in this investigation, who Mr. Miller referred to as a “junior officer” within the governor’s staff.
It was strange, in Mr. Miller’s view, for Mr. Forbes to be co-signing a letter to the editor to news outlets, given apparently equal footing with Mr. Manderson, the territory’s highest-ranking civil servant.
“It is entirely inappropriate for a junior officer to be commenting on the roles and continued service of the acting governor, who is the ultimate head of all officers in the civil service, including all staff in the governor’s office,” Mr. Miller wrote. “It was my understanding that the governor was head of the governor’s office.”
The issue is one that has troubled previous gubernatorial administrations in Cayman, although perhaps not so publicly as in the present circumstances surrounding Mr. Choudhury. The governor is appointed by Her Majesty, the Queen of England and is paid by the Cayman Islands government coffers.
The head of the Governor’s Office, often referred to as the governor’s chief of staff, is an employee of the U.K. foreign office and is paid by Her Majesty’s government.
Aside from any issues about who is in charge at government house, Mr. Miller also alleged that the July 26 letter to the editor sent to the local media offered a “misleading palliative” to the public, which remains highly concerned over how this investigation is proceeding.
“The public interest is not served by issuing empty statements,” he wrote.