CO gave nod for card use

| 01/10/2014

(CNS): The former chief officer in charge of McKeeva Bush’s ministry when he served as premier gave the OK for the personal use of government credit cards on the basis that the money was paid back, a crown witness said Wednesday. As the trial of Cayman’s former premier over the abuse of a government credit card resumed, the court heard that Carson Ebanks gave the nod for Bush’s personal use of the card when the chief financial officer had queried the cash advances taken in casinos while he was traveling overseas. Josephine Sambula said that when she raised the matter with her boss, Ebanks told her that as long as the money was recouped there wasn’t a problem.

As the crown’s final live witness in the case against Bush gave her evidence, she said that she had thought it was "unusual” to see the cash withdrawals and had brought it to the attention of Ebanks. However, Sambula said that when she was told that it was not a problem, she did not raise the issue with the premier. Instead she had begun the system of sending memos to the then premier’s office with his credit card statements to ensure the money for any personal charges Bush may have incurred was collected, she confirmed.

When asked by the crown prosecutor, Duncan Penny QC, if she felt this meant that anything goes with regards to the cards, she said, “No, I wouldn’t say that”.

However, she said that when asked Bush had always paid promptly for what he owed, and although she was unaware that he was giving blank cheques to his staff to cover the expense, she was aware that he was paying back his credit card debts regularly. 

Sambula also confirmed that when she did the reconciliation in November 2012, when the investigation into the potential abuse of the card by Bush began, she found that the premier still owed over $9,000.

Asked about the missing cash, Sambula said she spoke with her deputy financial officer, who had sent emails and correspondence to Bush’s office in 2010 relating to the sum, but she admitted that it had not been followed up for some time. However, Sambula said that when she spoke to Bush directly about the outstanding sum, he immediately sent his driver to the bank, she told the court, and he returned with the cheque for the full amount.

During the course of her evidence Sambula also revealed that in April 2009, just before Bush was re-elected as government leader in May, she had sent a memo to all staff in April. In that memo she said she set out the policy regarding travel, hospitality, entertainment and credit card use for ministers and senior staff who were obliged to go overseas on government business.

The memo, which she said was widely disseminated, outlined the rules relating to what government would and would not pay for regarding expenses. She explained that it was drawn up as a result of the changes relating to the implementation of the Public Service Management Law.

The General Orders, which previously provided the guidelines for public servants in every aspect of their work, including travel and hospitality expenses, had been replaced with the personnel regulations. Sambula said the memo was to clarify the government policy in relation to expense claims. The memo included directions regarding credit card use, which set out that the government’s corporate credit cards were for official use only.

Asked why she had addressed the cards in the memo, she said it was because government “was trying to limit personal use” on the cards.

With a considerable amount of the crown’s evidence concentrated in documents and various facts agreed between the defence and the crown, Penny closed his case following Sambula’s evidence by listing and reviewing the admissions to the jury and a significant amount of documentation.

The case before the jury was adjourned until Friday, as both legal teams are expected to engage in further legal arguments on Thursday before Bush is given his opportunity, should he choose to take the stand or call any witnesses, to answer the charges.

Bush is accused of make numerous cash withdrawals on his government credit cards while gambling in casinos and faces eleven counts of misuse of the card. The former premier and now leader of the opposition has categorically denied the charges, calling them a political witch hunt and a conspiracy to oust him from office before the 2013 general election by the former governor and bureaucrats at the FCO.

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Category: Crime

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