Auditor calls for more diversity on Central Planning Authority

Majority of board from industry

Auditors have raised concerns that the membership of the Central Planning Authority is made up largely of developers.

In a report on corruption prevention measures, the Auditor General recommends Cabinet consider candidates from more diverse backgrounds to avoid the appearance of bias on the authority, which is responsible for adjudicating planning applications in Grand Cayman.

The CPA is chaired by A.L. Thompson, who owns A. L. Thompson building supplies and construction companies, among other businesses. The deputy chair is Robert Watler, of Bob Watler’s Development and Real Estate. Several other members of the 13-person board have declared interests in construction, development or related areas.

Although this report focused on the planning boards, it is not uncommon in Cayman for board members in many areas to be drawn from within related industries and the auditors noted that this brought advantages in terms of relevant expertise as well as risks of conflicts of interest.

The audit, which focused on the planning department as a case study within a larger review of anti-corruption measures across government, highlighted significant progress in implementing new transparency measures in both the CPA and the Development Control Board, which performs the same function for the Sister Islands.

The authorities now host their meetings in public, and all members are required to fill out declarations of interest, revealing which companies they own or have investments in.

For the CPA, some, but not all, of those declarations of interest are available to view on the planning department’s website.

According to the report, auditors noted in 2015 that the majority of the members of the CPA come from development and construction industries.

“While this provided expertise to the CPA, there were potential and perceived risks of conflicts of interest,” the report notes.

The new report states that little has changed in this regard, with the two new members of the board recruited since 2015 also coming from within the industry.

The auditors recommend the membership of the authority and the Sister Islands board be balanced to include members representing sectors beyond the building and development industry.

“We appreciate that given the size of the Cayman Islands, the limited pool of people who may be willing or able to serve on public boards will be a constraint.

“However, we believe it is important that the composition of boards be balanced to avoid any perception of bias or conflict and that appointments made promote fairness and equal opportunity.”

The auditors noted significant progress within the planning department since its last report in 2015. Up to that point, planning meetings had been held behind closed doors.

The report notes, however, that there is still scope for further transparency measures, including indicating how the voting process works and providing evidence that technical advice from agencies like the Department of Environment has been taken into account.

Auditor General Sue Winspear wrote in her conclusion to the report, “My office previously reported a number of risks of corruption in this sector and I am pleased to note that improvements have been made over the past few years. The Central Planning Authority and Development Control Board have changed some of their practices to address these risks, including opening their meetings up to the public, making decisions public and maintaining registers of interests. However, there is still scope to improve. For example, a more balanced membership of these boards and ensuring that technical advice is taken into account in decision making could help avoid any perception of potential conflicts of interest.”

In a government press release in response to the report, planning director Haroon Pandohie wrote, “We are always seeking ways to improve the work we do and the service we provide to the people of the Cayman Islands. The recommendations made by the OAG to strengthen processes have been considered and taken on board. We’ve started the work of developing the necessary policies and procedure, and will continue to encourage and support the Central Planning Authority and the Development Control Board in its efforts to improve transparency.”

Neither the Premier’s office nor the Cabinet secretary responded by press time Monday to questions over the recommendation to diversify the makeup of the planning authority membership.

In its response to the wider report “Fighting Corruption in the Cayman Islands,” the government characterized the auditor’s assessment of its anti-corruption measures as “high praise.”

The report highlighted multiple new policies and pieces of legislation introduced by successive governments in its efforts to fight fraud and corruption, but cautioned that these actions had not yet been extended across the full public sector, and noted it was not yet clear how effective the framework had been.

It also raised concerns that the Standard in Public Life Law 2014, a major piece of that anti-corruption framework, had yet to be enacted.

Deputy Governor Franz Manderson welcomed the report in the press release, stating: “As the Office of the Auditor General itself has recognized, the civil service has instituted a zero tolerance approach to corruption and has a proven track record of referring cases of corruption to the Anti-Corruption Commission.

“Over the years we have implemented a range of legislation and established government bodies to help us protect the integrity of the service. These findings provide an opportunity for us to continue to evolve our response to this challenge which every jurisdiction faces to ensure that we are as effective as possible.”

According to the release, further new corruption-fighting measures are now planned, including:

  • The formation of an Audit and Risk Assurance Committee.
  • A proposal to seek Cabinet’s support to extend the Anti-Fraud Policy to statutory authorities and government-owned companies.
  • Seeking other avenues to administer anti-fraud training that will complement the online offering.
  • Exploring the extension of the list of designated authorities to whom whistleblowers can turn.

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