Posted On: Saturday, 05 May 2012
GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands - Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush has accused British officials, including the British-appointed governor and police commissioner, of conducting baseless investigations into his handling of government contracts.He described the investigations on local television as "nothing more than fishing expeditions," and accusing Britain of conspiring with opposition politicians to "ruin this country."
"The opposition, the governor, the foreign office are all trying to do one thing: 'Let's get McKeeva out this time, because we cannot control him,'" Bush said.
In a statement on Thursday, Governor Duncan Taylor responded, saying, "The suggestion that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or I are working against the interests of the Cayman Islands is completely without foundation."
Some two weeks ago, a spokesman for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) confirmed that Bush is the subject of three separate police investigations.
According to police, one of the investigations involves allegations of financial irregularities in relation to a land deal. In addition, a further allegation of financial irregularities has been made, which is entirely separate from the first investigation.
“Finally, allegations have been made in relation to the involvement of the premier in the periphery of a recent incident where a quantity of explosives were imported to the Cayman Islands without the necessary permit,” the police spokesperson said.
“All three of these investigations are actively ongoing. The governor and the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] are being kept fully updated,” the spokesperson added, concluding that “It would be inappropriate for the RCIPS to make any further comment in relation to any of the allegations made, or the status of the investigations, at this time.”
The first of the three investigations was confirmed by Governor Duncan Taylor in July 2011, when he acknowledged that the investigation in question centred on a letter said to be written by Bush in 2004, when he was then Leader of Government Business.
The letter to developer Stan Thomas, written on Windsor Development Corporation letterhead, and apparently faxed from Bush’s ministry in October 2004, asked for a balance of $350,000 to be sent to the corporation’s account as a result of Bush having “ensured that all of the proposed re-zoning issues” had been approved by Cabinet.
Windsor Development Corporation is reportedly owned by Bush’s wife, although according to the official register of interests he is a signatory on the corporation’s bank account.
At the time, land purchased by Thomas was the subject of a zoning application. It was rezoned in July 2004 by the Legislative Assembly after Cabinet approved a change in the territory’s development map.
However, at a recent press briefing, attended by Britain’s Minister for the Overseas Territories Henry Bellingham, who was on his first visit to the Cayman Islands, local media workers were taken by surprise by Governor Taylor’s admission of a second such investigation in response to questions about the first enquiry.
Neither Bellingham nor Taylor would comment further and the governor said it was up to the police commissioner to take the investigation forward and that at some point it would be up to the director of public prosecutions to take the matter any further than that. He then revealed that there was another hitherto undisclosed investigation in relation to Bush.
No details of this second investigation were given but Bellingham said he was confident of the independence of the police and that they were handling the investigations properly.
He added that it was important to keep at arm’s length from the investigations but he was being updated on the progress.
“I can say that there is a further investigation, a second investigation involving the premier but, as the minister said, it is not appropriate for me to comment on it in any detail,” Taylor stated, adding it was for the police commissioner to comment.
Then the following day came the police announcement of a third investigation related to explosives that were apparently imported into the Cayman Islands without the necessary permit.
The premier has denied wrongdoing.
"My hands are clean and my heart is pure," said Bush.
Opposition parliamentarians filed a no-confidence motion last week. However, it is unlikely to pass because of the ruling party's majority in the territory’s Legislative Assembly.
Citing the three investigations, opposition leader Alden McLaughlin said: "McKeeva Bush continuing in the office as premier of the Cayman Islands is untenable."
Visiting his recent visit to the Cayman Islands, Bellingham voiced concern over negotiations for a $300 million cruise ship terminal with government-owned China Harbour Engineering Company.
"I have made it very clear to (the premier) that, for me to be able to support the project, it must be in line with international best practice," Bellingham said, adding that both the government procurement unit and auditor general should be consulted on the final contract.
The negotiations with China Harbour have been highly controversial after Bush canceled a pending deal with another company, bypassing the government procurement office tendering process and the contract negotiations by the Port Authority board members.
In July 2011, the Cayman Islands auditor general, Alastair Swarbrick, released a performance audit report on the government’s procurement management, in which he said there had been a fundamental breakdown in the system, along with political interference in the procurement process.
The auditor general found that government procurement had not been effectively managed and that there had been a fundamental breakdown in processes and systems to ensure fairness, efficiency, transparency and value-for-money in procurement.
He also reported that he had found instances of some politicians interfering in the procurement process in which they should have no role to play. The report went on to say that significant risks of abuse, mismanagement, fraud and corruption may result and that political interference must stop if the operations of government are to have any credibility and trust by suppliers.