Cabinet rejects two Enquiry findings

| 07/08/2008

(CNS): Following the Commission of Enquiry held earlier this year, Governor Stuart Jack and the PPM Government have agreed on five recommendations that require legislation and/or a decision by Cabinet. However, Cabinet rejected two key recommendations, namely that directors should have fixed three-year appointments and that senior civil servants should be ineligible to stand in a general election for a period of time after resignation or retirement.

The Enquiry, ordered by the Governor, investigated allegations surrounding the removal of files from the Ministry of Tourism by the former Permanent Secretary Charles Clifford, now Tourism Minister, and related issues. The recommendations were made by Commissioner of Enquiry, Sir Richard Tucker.

According to a statement issued from the Governor’s office, the recommendation for fixed-term appointments for directors was not judged to be workable by Cabinet. “Ministers are of the view that it is important that directors of boards have the confidence of the government of the day and therefore could be changed by a new government.”

The Governor understood Ministers’ reasons for rejecting the recommendation on the term of appointments of directors of statutory authorities and government companies, he said, provided other measures were taken to ensure that directors understood and observed their responsibilities. “While under the laws governing the operations of these boards it is usually for Cabinet and Ministers to set the policy framework within which boards operate, inappropriate interference in operational matters must be avoided.”

The Governor said it was in the interests of both members of boards and of the country that they were clear about the need to avoid conflict of interest and more generally about their roles and responsibilities, including those under the new Anti-Corruption and Freedom of Information Laws. “Clear written guidance will be important where that does not currently exist. The Civil Service College will also be organising short courses or workshops on governance which I hope many directors, especially chairpersons and their deputies, will attend,” he said.

Speaking to CNS, Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said that some boards already had fixed terms for directors specified in law, the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority Board for example, for which changes were made when the appointment expired. 

“One reality that people overlook is that the operation of a government entity ought to reflect government policy,” he said, noting the distinction between interfering in decisions of individual matters, which ministers ought not to do, and influencing broad policy guidelines, which Cabinet is entitled to do.

“As far as I know, throughout the Commonwealth it is expected that when a government changes, the new government would want to ensure that boards and authorities are at least prepared to implement government policy,” he said. The PPM had kept some appointments, but had made changes where people were overly political or critical of government, he added.

The recommendation for a hiatus before senior civil servants leaving office could run for election was also rejected by Cabinet. The Governor’s release noted that this would require Constitutional amendment. Ministers would not put this forward in the forthcoming constitutional talks with the UK Government but would address the issue if raised by the UK side, he said.

“As the history of these islands has shown civil servants can have a lot to offer if elected to the Legislative Assembly. But a short hiatus of maybe only one year before seeking political office on the part of just the most senior civil servants (say, Chief Officers and similar) would give both Ministers and the general public greater confidence that such senior officials continued to be motivated by the national interest rather than personal ambition. So, if this issue is raised in the constitutional talks, I hope both sides will be prepared to look at it with an open mind,” said Governor Jack.

In response, Minister McLaughlin said the Governor has not yet addressed the question as to why this gap period is not regarded as necessary or appropriate in the UK. Noting that this has never been an issue before, he said that civil servants vehemently oppose any such provision in the law.

The Minister went on to note that while the Enquiry had been conducted into the wrongfulness of the disclosures by Clifford, there had still been no real action by the Governor or the police on those matters brought to light by the disclosures, in particular those relating to the Turtle Farm and the Affordable Housing Programme.

The recommendations accepted by Cabinet were that MLAs, including Ministers, should not serve as directors of statutory authorities or government companies and civil servants only in a non-voting role; directors of statutory authorities and government companies should have clear written duties; clear guidance will be given to directors and civil servants as to the status of, and their duties in respect of, documents; the FOI Unit will issue guidance on handling of confidential records, including “personal files”; and lastly that amendment will be considered to the Public Service Management Law to make compatible with the Freedom of Information Law in respect of whistle-blowers.

In addition, the Chief Secretary, as Head of the Civil Service, in consultation with the Attorney General’s Chambers, will be acting on two further recommendations that do not require Cabinet approval. These are to review the possible removal of the declaration of secrecy from the Personnel Regulations which duplicates an existing requirement in the law, and to clarify in Personnel Regulations rules on whistle-blowing.

 

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