Public boards need rules

| 04/04/2011

(CNS): People who serve on government boards for public authorities where they also have business interests are being called into question. There are currently a number of boards where members face potential conflicts of interest, raising concerns in the community. How boards are appointed, how political they should be and where the line is drawn between experience and business interest are topical issues that have been raised by the Commission for Standards in Public Life. North Side MLA Ezzard Miller says that what is needed is a proper set of rules and standards to govern how boards are selected and how they operate.

Recent changes to the board overseeing the airport on Grand Cayman were questioned by a number of CNS readers, who asked whether it was ethical to have a chair who was an airline agent and one member whose firm handles the security at Owen Roberts International. However, this is by no means the first or only instance where members of the more than the one hundred government boards and other public authority councils may be conflicted. Historically, the membership on boards, such as planning, the public transport board, those relating to business licensing and immigration, among others, have all been called into question.

The Commission for Standards in Public Life recently raised the issue of qualification of board members and the need for more technical expertise in its latest report to the Legislative Assembly. Miller also says there needs to be a proper set of rules that define how the boards are selected and run. Furthermore, he stated that people who are appointed to boards often take the money but don’t take on the responsibility that serving requires.

“People who have pecuniary interests or government sub-contracts should not be sitting on public boards,” the independent MLA said, adding no one should put themselves in positions where conflicts of interest arise. “But the bigger problem is that there are no common rules about how boards function and in some cases members are taking their stipend and then they are allowed to ‘goof off’. It’s time we established set of standards and expectations of what is required of members.”

The question of the politicisation of boards has also caused debate in the community. The premier has frequently stated that since boards work for government and implement government policy they should be government supporters and not be working against the elected administration.

On a number of occasions he has publicly criticised boards for dragging their feet and has stated that were he able to have more control, in particularly of the Port Authority, the cruise ship docks would already be under construction. When Bush was leader of government business in the previous UDP administration, he also served as chair on the Port Authority board.

The Commission for Standards in Public Life said in its February report that it would take an “in depth look” at statutory board appointments and how “conflicts of interest or corruption”, perceived or real, could be avoided. It said it was also interested in how qualified members were to make the best decisions falling within their remit. The CSPL, which was created under the new constitution as a watchdog for all public servants, is just one body examining the way people involved in public life behave as governance moves in to the era of transparency.

The new Anti-corruption Commission and the anti-corruption law cover statuary boards and councils. Last year the attorney general advised all those serving on government and statutory boards to pay close attention to potential conflicts of interest.

The law mandates that any public officer or MLA that has any financial interests, direct or indirect in the company or partnership or similar entity needs to make a written disclosure. “Any public officer or MLA who fails to disclose an interest as stipulated by the law and who proceeded to vote or otherwise takes part in the proceedings of the entity relating to such interest commits and offence and could face prison time of up to five years if convicted,” Samuel Bulgin explained.

Although the Anti-corruption Commission has been in place for more than a year, its members have said nothing at all publicly about its work or if it is currently carrying out any investigations. For some twelve months the chair, who is the police commissioner, has been saying that a public education campaign will soon begin. As yet, however, no dates have been set for public meetings or details of the campaign revealed. The commission was established under the anti-corruption law and not the new constitution, but the point of public contact for the body was recently placed under the Constitutional Secretariat and a hotline created for people to report cases of potential corruption. 

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  1. Shock and Awe says:

    Slightly off topic but very similar to the U.S. where former directors of Goldman Sachs, B of A, Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo, etc. all of whom were knee deep in financial wrongdoing now advise presidents on fiscal policy. This is ostensibly because they have the "expertise".  C’mon. Who do they think they’re foolin’?  I doubt if one of them has had an awakening, or found God. Or.. is less corrupt, or self interested than before, but the excuse remains the same: "they have the necessary experience".  Governments, in particular the U.S. seem to operate on revolving doors perpetuating the same policies with the same culprits.  As long as this persists the public is being gang raped and to the victim it doesn’t matter who’s first.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Government boards

    I wish that some one would check out CINICO board . I believe there is much conflict of interest going on there. I believe there is one member who represents another insurance company and is also a member of CINICO board which is another insurance company. How can one person who is representing an insurance Company be on the Board of a Government Insurance Company?

  3. Anonymous says:

    And just what is Ezzard suggesting: Is he suggesting that we grant work permits to deal with the Government Board? Ezzard is becoming like Arden, always shooting hot air. As small as the island is, how does Ezzard expect to avoid conflict of interest. What type of people does he expect to sit on the boards. Members that have an interest only needs to declare themself. He knows that. I sat on board with him, ask him how much of the Bull —– he feed us with about the Ritz Carlton and their interest in Caymanian has materialized? Very little if any. These polititians beleive that the more giberage they shoot to us, the fooler we get.
    Ezzard is not different from Bushy tail – blind fold them both and put them in a sack and they both float the same direction. The difference would be, I hope is that they both would try to find they way home.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Chairmen/Members of Public Boards with a conflict of interest In a recent article referring to the captioned I would like to bring to light the following situation that I can think of. While I confer with the idea that party supporters are best to support any Government and their Boards, members that share a direct conflict should not be considered for those Board but instead considered for otherBoards in which they do not share a conflict.

    The question of each member ability and qualification should also be consider and not just thrown into a Board because they are a good supporter of the party. I do agree with the article that Public Boards do need rules, two examples of this problem below quickly illustrates the danger in members or chairmen with a conflict of interest. The first Board to mention is the Immigration Board “the Chairperson” has a company that offers immigration services and therefore folks that are in need of these services are going to feel compelled to use her company instead of a competitor. XXXXX

    The second situation I can think of is the Cayman Islands Airports Authority Board, whereby the “newly appointed chairman” has an operating company at the airport and a direct competitor to many other handling companies. The new chairman was previously the “voice chairman” another position that should never have gone to a direct competitor.

    Additionally, there is another Board member and direct competitor that is also a party crony, now that these two cronies are in control of the Board I wonder what chance any other competitor has in getting an application approved? XXXX

    At times the operating/handling companies are subject to hand over documents to the authority I am sure that the Board gets to see these confidential documents which in my opinion puts the competitors at risk of the their direct competitors seeing their cost and other confidential operating information. It is my recommendation that these two individuals be removed from these Boards and reappointed to Boards in which they do not have and interest of create a conflict.

  5. petermilburn says:

    Just a quick thought on Govt boards.You need some people on them that have the expertise in whatever field the board is representing.Say the electrical board or plumbing.Doesnt make sense having the board made up of folks who have no idea about such matters.but here is where the problem lies.Too many people on any of these boards have a self interest in what the boards are dealing with so they have an inside knowlege of what is granted before hand and that can lead to unfair “deals”being made.Many of them are appointed strictly on the basis of who they voted for in the last election and this is totally wrong.How does one deal with this?I have an idea but it certainly presents a major problem.I think what is needed in a perfect setting is a leader who puts Cayman FIRST and foremost regardless of who they voted for.and they can use their knowlege to make the right decisions for the betterment of the country not just the chosen few.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Those boards are all a sham! No real power behind them anyway, and most members don’t have any balls to be standing up to any bullies or are just there to serve their own interests. It is a load of BS!

  7. Traveller says:

    And who is going to enforce them, him? We saw his leadership abilities with the Public Accounts Committee.
    Lord help us all we are getting is ideas and ideas and no action.

  8. Anonymous says:

    But the boards do have rules. The ones in legislation are of course irrelevant. The rule that counts is – "Do wha de man tell you or you gone."

  9. Anonymous says:

    “Any public officer or MLA who fails to disclose an interest as stipulated by the Law and who proceeded to vote or otherwise takes part in the proceedings of the entity relating to such interest commits and offence and could face prison time of up to five years if convicted,” Samuel Bulgin explained.

    Notice that the offence relates to failing to disclose AND taking part in proceedings. There is no problem with conflicts IF they are disclosed. An entire board may be appointed entirely on the basis of patronage because they DO have conflicts and in the knowledge that they can happily disclose their conflicts and then are free to use their positions to gain profit for themselves, their friends and the politicians that appointed them. The law is deliberately designed to facilitate politicians appointing people that they "ca wuk wit".

    • Anonymous says:

       My good friend Mr Miller can you tell me if its true that Board Members can be sued. If that is true alot of folks are in trouble./The truth is that some of these Boards have some of the most inferior Representatives ever. Back in Mr Truman and Mr Jefferson days they seemed to select good Representatives, which was an asset to them. I am very surprised at the selection now a day.The Boards are where the strength is. 

      • Anonymous says:

        So true!!! Look into the qualifications of menbers on Boards and Councils and be prepared for a shock!!!

        Look at the Medical and Dental Council for example!