Former Governor Anwar Choudhury apparently had some big party plans before he was removed from office last year with no explanation, just 11 weeks after his arrival on island.
Legislators voted Monday night to approve $148,000 in supplementary funds to cover unbudgeted costs planned during Choudhury’s brief tenure.
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson and Premier Alden McLaughlin explained that the appropriation would go towards plans Choudhury made last year to make “renovations” to Government House and to increase the “quantity and duration” of events held there.
“Last May, the idea there would be increased functions at Government House, both in terms of the frequency and duration,” Manderson said Monday night. “As you know, the functions at Government House start at 6:30 [p.m.] and finish at 8 [p.m.]. There was a plan to increase that, to make Government House more accessible to the community.”
McLaughlin stressed that the plans to renovate the governor’s house and hold more events there were made during Choudhury’s tenure, and that “these were his plans and proposals”. Those plans have changed under current Governor Martyn Roper, the premier said.
Manderson told the Finance Committee that Governor Roper in no way wants to have unnecessary costs associated with his office, and will return any unspent money that Choudhury had plans for. Manderson stressed that these funds were appropriated properly – Cabinet approved the spending last May – and Monday’s Finance Committee vote was to finalise the appropriation.
An audit is being conducted to see exactly how much was spent after Choudhury’s plans were approved by Cabinet, and the deputy governor said he should have a final cost estimate by next week. If it turns out that the Governor’s Office spent less than $148,000, then the remaining money will be returned to central government, he said.
In response to a Compass inquiry about the matter, the Governor’s Office issued a statement that contained similar information as what was said in Finance Committee.
“Additional funding for the Governor’s Office was approved by Cabinet in May 2018 to enable increased staffing levels in the Governor’s Office and at Government House. It was also to facilitate additional entertaining requirements for Governor Choudhury at Government House and the potential for some renovations,” the Governor’s Office stated, adding, “The need for extra funding for entertaining and renovations at Government House requested by Governor Choudhury is still being evaluated after the arrival of Governor Roper and may result in a reduction in the amount which was approved by Cabinet. Such decisions will be based on operational requirements and value for money. Events and functions continue as normal at Government House. Governor Roper has already and will in future, seek ways to invite a more diverse group of people from across the community to Government House.
“We are unable to comment on the reasons for Governor Choudhury’s withdrawal from Post.”
The information about Choudhury’s party plans was almost not made public. Nearing the end of a 12-hour day of Finance Committee hearings on Tuesday, a legislator proposed that the Finance Committee approve supplemental appropriations in aggregate amounts, rather than going through every expense line by line.
But when Finance Committee Chairman Roy McTaggart asked for legislators to vote on a $298,000 appropriation earmarked to “increase staffing levels at the Governor’s Office”, opposition MLA Chris Saunders interjected.
Saunders asked how many employees the $298,000 appropriation was paying for, and Manderson responded that it would fund “one-and-a-half” officers – a full-time policy officer and a temporary person doing secretary work.
Saunders asked how only “one-and-a-half” officers could cost nearly $300,000, and the deputy governor said only $150,000 of the appropriation is going towards personnel costs.
“The remaining $148,000, what would that be for?” Saunders asked.
“This was approved in May of last year when there were some additional plans for Government House,” Manderson replied. “Those have remained during this financial period.”
When Saunders pressed Manderson for more information on the expenses, McLaughlin interjected.
“So I can be clear, because I think we may wind up under a problem, this was in the era of the former governor, Anwar Choudhury. So these were his plans and proposals,” the premier said. “There is a new disposition now.”
Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller then asked why the funds need to be appropriated if Choudhury’s plans have been abandoned. Manderson explained that an audit is being conducted to see what expenses were actually made.
“Once we know what was spent, then we can look at whether we actually need this. If we need a Cabinet paper to return the money, then we’ll do it,” Manderson said. “The funds have not been audited so once the funds are audited, then we can make a very clear assessment as to what funds are actually needed.”
Opposition MLA Arden McLean remarked that “it’s becoming clear the reason for [Choudhury’s] exit”.
The last question on the matter was made by Opposition MLA Kenneth Bryan, who asked whether the current governor is less open than the former one to the idea of holding more public functions at his house.
“This is exactly why I didn’t want to go down this road,” Manderson replied. “As I said before, Mr. Roper has said to me, ‘Once we have a clear idea of what was spent, then let us sit down and decide if these funds are actually needed.’ Certainly, Mr. Roper has had a number of functions at Government House – three or four times a week – so I don’t think there is an effort to not have more functions, but he’s being judicious in the spending.”
Choudhury arrived in Cayman in March last year, and was “temporarily withdrawn” about 11 weeks later by UK officials, pending an internal investigation into complaints about his behaviour.
Last September, Choudhury was officially removed from his post and placed in another diplomatic posting in London.
Both the Cayman government and the UK have declined to release the contents of staff complaints made against the former governor – government said the records “belong to the government of the United Kingdom”, and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said releasing the records would violate data protection laws.