EDITORIAL – CINICO CEO fired: Government’s ‘silent treatment’

“Unfortunately, as a result of information which recently came to the attention of the Board of Directors and which has been investigated, a decision was taken to terminate the employment of the CEO of CINICO with immediate effect. The Board of Directors does not propose to make any further comments at this time.”
– Full statement from Cayman Islands National Insurance Company (CINICO) Board of Directors on the dismissal of CEO Lonny Tibbetts

 

The government’s cursory announcement of the firing of Lonny Tibbetts (after eight years’ leading CINICO) masquerades as information, but it is actually an insult – to the public’s intelligence, and to the public’s right to know.

The two-sentence press release, sent via Government Information Services late Monday afternoon, does not include the nature of the investigation, who did the investigating or what were the results. It neither mentions Mr. Tibbetts by name, identifies the CINICO board members who made the decision, nor contains the signature of any individual. It doesn’t hint at next steps for the investigation or the now-CEOless public entity.

The contemptuous undertones are practically palpable.

When a Compass reporter called CINICO Board Chairwoman Patricia Estwick and requested clarification, she hung up on him. Minister of Health Dwayne Seymour responded to a request for comment with a brief text message saying he was in a meeting.

CINICO is a significant public entity and a major force in Cayman’s healthcare market. CINICO’s operating expenses for 2019 are estimated to exceed $90 million (not including an additional tens of millions of dollars per year for medical emergencies locally and overseas) – primarily supplied by the government (i.e., taxpayers). Its eight-member board of directors, appointed by Cabinet, receives collective remuneration of about $40,000 per year.***

The government-owned company provides health insurance for more than 15,000 people, including public employees and our country’s most vulnerable populations, such as pensioners, seafarers, veterans and the poor.

In other words, the public interest in this issue could not be greater, and Monday’s press release cannot constitute government’s sole or final word on the matter.

In terms of the grounds required to terminate a public employee for alleged (or even proven) wrongdoing, the threshold established by Cayman’s government typically coincides with criminal conviction in a court of law.

Whatever the investigation did reveal apparently was sufficient to cause CINICO’s board to dismiss its CEO. This must not be a case where an employee loses his job and everyone walks away without further comment.

Then again, in secrecy in this and other instances, Cayman’s government appears to be adhering to the example set by the United Kingdom, which refuses to offer any explanation as to the removal of Anwar Choudhury from the Office of the Governor, the highest public position in Cayman.

We have, perhaps, belabored all that the CINICO press release did not say. One word, however, did stand out. That word is “recently” – as in the CINICO Board “recently” found out about the investigation.

Really?

It is our understanding that the investigation into Mr. Tibbetts has been pursued for many months, if not more than a year. If that is true, how is it possible the board had no information until “recently?”

If the board felt obligated to take immediate action in regard to Mr. Tibbetts now, why did it not feel similarly obligated to take preemptive or preparatory action before – i.e., suspension, or at minimum formulating a substantive public statement to be issued at the time of termination?

No part of our editorial comment should be taken as presumption that Mr. Tibbetts is guilty of anything. Quite the opposite. For legal, ethical and societal reasons, every person possesses a presumption of innocence. The government’s muteness on the reason for Mr. Tibbetts’s dismissal is as damaging to his reputation as would be substantive allegations. Perhaps even more so – because one cannot defend oneself against silence.

One important component of government accountability is holding individuals responsible for their actions. Co-equal with that is transparency – conducting government business in public to eliminate opportunities for abuse, by individuals or institutions.

***Correction***
Editor’s Note: The original version of this editorial stated incorrectly the approximate remuneration received by the CINICO Board of Directors.

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