A week and a year in politics

| 07/01/2013

mac pointing 2.jpg(CNS): 2012 ended with a political week that will go down in local history books, when McKeeva Bush, the first premier of Cayman, was arrested at his home in the early hours of Tuesday, 11December, and ousted from the top job by his colleagues seven days later. However, 2012 was marked throughout by political turmoil and from the very start of the year Bush’s government faced intense criticism, significant financial problems, enormous pressure from the UK, and was perpetually under the suspicion of corruption. Things started badly for Bush when, despite his claims that it he had stabilized public finances, it was revealed that he had been forced to increase the government overdraft by $10 million. (Photo Dennie Warren Jr)

January: Costing the public purse around $50,000 in bank fees, the then premier had to ask the UK’s permission to raise the government overdraft from $15 to $25 million in order to pay bills ahead of the expected revenue collection in January. As criticisms of his administration mounted, in his New Year message Bush once again pointed to a list of hoped for, but never materialized, development projects as Cayman’s economic saviours.

Activists against the ForCayman Investment Alliance continued their campaign and revealed that the length of the West Bay Road which Dart planned to close was far longer than originally stated. FOI requests also confirmed that the DECCO dump bid, which was part of the deal, had actually been ranked as the lowest bid by the government’s own technical committee during the tendering process.

Meanwhile, the premier complained bitterly about good governance and best practice at the Cayman Business Outlook conference. He said it would cost his government around a quarter of a million dollars for consultants to tell him that the ForCayman deal was good for the country as a result of the requirements under the new agreement he had signed with the UK, the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility, which was to dominate the political year.

At the same conference the investigation into the “Stan Thomas affair” was also discussed when the opposition party chairman said the on-going enquiry was having a detrimental impact on the public and business.

February: The second month of the year brought more uncomfortable revelations for the premier when leaked documents regarding his administration’s efforts to sell its new Government Office Accommodation Building showed that the Central Tenders Committee had refused to act outside of the law at the request of the premier. Bush had asked the CTC to dispense with the usual process and agree to sell the building to an affiliate of the controversial finance company Cohen and Co.

Meanwhile, Independent member for North Side Ezzard Miller filed a complaint with the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission over the $5 million cash donation the Dart Group made to government in connection with the ForCayman Investment Alliance. Although the complaint was later dismissed, the questioning and criticisms of the secret deal continued to plague the Bush government.

Financial difficulties with the government’s budget continued into February, with bills remaining unpaid. However, the serious political challenge to government came when east End MLA Arden McLean and Ezzard Miller launched a petition to trigger a people- initiated referendum on one man, one vote. As the campaign gathered momentum, Bush announced that government would hold a referendum on the issue at the same time as the May 2013 election.

While activists continued to campaign against the Dart deal, the premier was also pressing ahead with talks with the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) over cruise berthing facilities, despite widespread opposition.

Political controversy mounted when Bush announced at a public meeting in East End that he would be funding a potential independent candidate in the district with some $200,000 from the Dart donation. In an unorthodox move that by-passed the district’s sitting political representative, Arden McLean, Bush said his government intended to give John McLean Jr the money so he could be the project manager for a number of local community initiatives.  

March: As the year rolled on and the petition for one man, one vote gathered momentum, the political criticisms of the government heated up. Comments by Bush about a possible fifth seat in West Bay, despite the findings of the Electoral Boundary Commission, brought accusations from Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin that he was attempting to manipulate the election. Campaigners for one man, one vote called on him to save the country money and simply implement single member constituencies.

Bush tried to deflect some of the political heat by writing to the Anti-Corruption Commission about former Cabinet minister, Arden Mclean, whom he accused of not paying his power bill for over a year during the time he was negotiating a licensing agreement with CUC during the the previous administration. However, the issue was quickly cleared up, as McLean cooperated with the authorities to clear his name. The matter backfired as the opposition then taunted the premier over his own legal troubles regarding the infamous Stan Thomas letter.

The new school facilities continued to be used as a political football as the education minister claimed that the final bill to finish both of the high schools would eventually total around $197 million. Public finances in general presented major problems for the government as it approached the financial year end and another deficit, while efforts to improve government’s public accounting continue to flounder.

The Cayman Contractors Association became the next group to raise concerns over government’s decision to enter into a deal with China Harbour Engineering Company to build the cruise berthing facilities. The cost of the project, the dangers to the local construction industry the inflated CHEC proposal and the environmental damage it could cause were just some of the issues raised by the industry body.

Government came in for some more political beatings when the problems at The Ritz Carlton-Cayman exploded into the public domain, as the property came under receivership but the $6 million duty waiver remained unpaid.

there was more bad news for the UDP when a leading party official and the deputy chair of the National Housing and Development Trust was arrested in connection with an insurance con relating to the affordable homes project in East End.

April: Despite the rough ride for government in the first quarter of the year, things were about to get a lot worse when it was made public that came that the premier was the subject of not one but three separate police investigations.

In a further shocking revelation, the RCIPS confirmed that the enquiry over the Stan Thomas letter was not the only on-going enquiry but that Bush was being investigated over his links with the illegal importation of dynamite and further financial irregularities.

Bush, however, continued to deny any wrongdoing in the face of a 'no confidence' motion from the opposition. He also remained defiant in the face of increasing pressure from the UK to get the cruise berthing project back in line with in best procurement practice.

In the same month Bush changed his mind about the referendum on one man, one vote and in a snap decision called for a July poll in the hopes of pulling the rug from an increasingly successful campaign.

Meanwhile, public finances continued to plague the administration and a report by a UK economic expert reveals further failings in the Cayman government’s ability to account for its spending. The Luck Report pointed to poor understanding and leadership and said the people of Cayman were "without their key controls”.

May: The month of May was far from smelling of roses for the Bush administration, which began with a 'no confidence' motion in the Legislative Assembly. Although his UDP team closed ranks and continued to offer their support for the premier, rumours of cracks in the government mounted. The premier began his campaign against Governor Duncan Taylor and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in earnest with a public attack on Taylor, accusing him of “stealthily and insidiously” undermining the Cayman Islands.

Facing pressure from all directions over the police probes, Bush continued to deny the allegations, describing the investigations as a UK conspiracy against him. As more details about the Stan Thomas affair and Bush’s involvement in the dynamite shipment were revealed, the premier claimed he was merely trying to help a friend. He also produced a second fax relating to the original Stan Thomas letter in an effort to deflect attention and suggested his political assistant, Richard Parchment, had made a mistake with the correspondence.

The planned referendum caused more political division and turmoil when Bush, having hi-jacked the referendum, insisted that, even though this was now a government initiated poll, the result had to be more than 50% of all registered voters rather than a majority of the turnout. In addition, by calling the referendum so late the voters' register was closed within days of the announcement, disenfranchising many new voters.

The unemployment rate for Caymanians climbed to 10%, with no projects breaking ground and public finances still in turmoil. Government efforts to raise cash with the sale of the Water Authority’s sewage system were thwarted when the tendering process was bogged down in further scandal.

Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly (who at the end of the year took helm of the minority government) also came under fire when a report by the Office of the Auditor General revealed that her ministry had unlawfully spent more than half a million dollars in public cash paving private parking lots and driveways in a $3 million public road improvement scheme on Cayman Brac.

Things took an even more painful turn for the UDP when Education Minister Rolston Anglin was arrested in the early hours of 23 May for driving under the influence of alcohol after crashing into a ditch.

June: As the financial year drew to a close, the budget became the centre of political attention — not least the premier’s failure to deliver one. The FCO demanded more cuts, forcing Bush to present an interim emergency appropriation bill and not a proper budget before the year ended. Meanwhile, controversy swirled around CHEC with revelations that the Chinese company remained banned by the World Bank because of fraud and corruption.

The auditor general revealed more shortcomings in the management of public finances and potential abuse of public money and suggested that the public needed to be concerned about how government was handling the public purse. A new white paper published by the UK made it clear Britain would be pushing for better standards of government in its territories and would be taking a more active role.

As campaigns continued against the ForCayman Alliance, documents revealed under the freedom of information law showed that government was limiting an environmental impact assessment into the move of the George Town landfill to Bodden Town to the proposed Dart site in Midland Acres. Bush came in for more criticism over a controversial home saving plan using cash donated by Dart to help pay off people’s mortgage arrears.

Meanwhile, the rollover policy’s future was officially in question when the results of the Term Limit Review Committee’s work recommended the abolition of the seven year term limit.

July: As the new financial year began, Bush faced more calls for his resignation over his failure as minister of finance to produce a budget. The month was dominated by campaigning over the one man, one vote referendum and the controversial "ex-pat tax". 

The premier’s budget was declined several times by the UK when it refused to sanction any borrowing and required a significant surplus. Bush was criticised severely by the opposition and independent members over the budget crisis but he was to receive even more from the public when he attempted to introduce a tax on the earnings of foreign workers, proposing a fundamental change to the local tax system.

In the referendum just over 19% of the electorate voted 'no' to change and in favour of the status quo and multi-member constituencies. More than 80%, however, either voted for one man, one vote and single-member constituencies or did not turn out to the polls at all. Nevertheless, the 5,631 'yes' votes compared to the 3,001 'no' votes failed to win the day under the rules set by Bush, but it was a hollow victory and demonstrated the mood for change in Cayman.

Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick revealed further failures in the government procurement process in a report identifying the waste of scarce resources and a lack of accountability.

Meanwhile, details of government’s deal with Dart finally leaked into the public domain revealing that the developer would be taking a 50% share of all tourism taxes levied from guests staying in any of its properties for the ten years following the development, renovation or acquisition of any hotel, as well as many other concessions. Ezzard Miller said the deal was so bad for Caymanians the premier could not possibly have read it.

Controversy continued to mount for the premier when it was revealed that Brian Tomlinson, the director of the National Roads Authority, was removed from office. The NRA boss was the man who had ordered the seizure of the controversial shipment of 32 tonnes of dynamite imported by Midland Acres, which the premier had tried to have released.

Public officials revealed that members of Cabinet had voted to make top politicians and speakers of the LA 'honourable' for all eternity.

August: As the mercury rose in the thermometers, so did the premier’s temper, with scathing attacks on everyone he perceived to be against him. But he saved his worst for the governor and the auditor general, suggesting that they were hindering rather than helping with the budget problems and Cayman’s economic woes.

After considerable yo-yoing in the face of massive opposition to the proposed ex-pat tax, Bush eventually dropped the controversial revenue measure but continued in a protracted battle with the UK over the budget.

Anarray of new revenue raising measures, mostly impacting the financial services sector, and cuts to civil service salaries were eventually implemented in a budget which was delivered by the premier without UK approval. By the time the debate had finished, however, the UK had given a nod to the 2012/13 spending plans, but with conditions which effectively stripped Bush of his autonomy as finance minister.

The conditions prevented further appropriations, established a budget board headed by the deputy governor and required the CIG to facilitate reviews of the budget by the FCO's economic adviser up to four times throughout the year. The FCO also demanded that Bush adopt the controversial Framework for Fiscal Responsibility into law before the end of September. Bush was further criticised for what was still the highest spending budget in the history of the Cayman Islands and for the further $4.5 million that was allocated to the Nation Building Fund. 

The activist group, Cayman United, which emerged to campaign against the ex-pat tax turned its hand to encouraging people to register to vote and become more aware of exactly what their politicians were doing.

Meanwhile, the director of Midland Acres was charged and convicted over the importation of explosives without a permit and fined $1,300 by a magistrate. Suresh Prasad chose not to fight the case and admitted that the company had erred in its efforts to hasten the production of a significant quantity of marl for a contract it had secured with the Dart Group. The premier’s involvement in this case would later be the cause of his own arrest on suspicion of offences under the anti-corruption law.

The opposition party faced its own political turmoil in August, when the popular representative for East End and leading member of the party, Arden McLean, resigned, formalising the increasingly independent position he had followed.

September: As the hurricane season moved into its busiest phase, the natural storms were nothing compared to the political ones raging in Cayman. A new minister was appointed at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to oversee the UK’s territories, as well as a new director, but the relationship between the premier and the UK worsened. Bush, however, was overseas for a significant part of the month, including visits to the frozen north and the Far East.

Meanwhile, the education minister made his first public appearance in Summary Court regarding his drinking and driving charge.

Activists continued campaigning against various proposed developments, including the Dart deal, plans for canals in South Sound, the removal of mangroves and the controversies over the Safehaven marina development. The deputy premier also came under fire when Public Accounts Committee examined the controversial Brac paving project.

Although time spent in Cayman during the month was brief, Bush still managed to generate plenty of controversy when he made it clear he would not be fulfilling one of the conditions set out by the UK for its approval of the Cayman government’s budget, as the FFR would not reach the LA until November. Criticising elements of the agreement, he also indicated his intention to change some of it and to add a clause that would make the UK liable for any perceived financial loss to Cayman for following the procedures laid down in it.

October: The month opened with a 'not guilty' plea from the education minister over his DUI charge. Meanwhile, MLA Miller continued to press government to reveal the full details of the controversial Dart deal, which still remains under wraps. Bush’s travelling again came under fire but the premier defended his worldwide journeys, claiming he had to knock on doors for new opportunities. While he was overseas,he signed an MOU with a Philippines corporation which included a potential deal with Cayman Airways.

The information commissioner once again highlighted procedural problems plaguing freedom of information requests and the time authorities were taking to comply with the law, if at all.

Despite bragging by the UDP administration that it had got public finances in order, the auditor general was still unable to audit government's accounts because of the poor quality of information. As a result, the $2 billion of public money spent by the government since it was elected remained unaccounted for.

As the developer Michael Ryan battled his creditors in the courts, the Ritz Carlton-Cayman was sold at auction for US$177.5 million to the company holding the debt for the property. However, the question of who was responsible for the outstanding duty of $6 million owed to government remained unanswered.

The premier geared up for a showdown with the UK as he insisted he would be changing the FFR before it came to the Legislative Assembly. In return, the FCO began indicating it would be prepared to force it into local legislation if the Cayman government failed to honour the agreement to do so.

November: The month began with a very clear indication that Bush was itching for a fight with the British but it was a fight he appeared destined to lose. Bush said he would press ahead with his version of the FFR, but following several days of brinkmanship the premier was forced to back down on both changes to the fiscal agreement as well as his instance on continuing talks with the Chinese firm CHEC to develop the port.

With more calls for his resignation from the public and the opposition benches, Bush remained defiant to the last but was eventually forced, under significant pressure from the UK, to agree to put the port project out to tender and implement the FFR exactly as it was signed.

The premier also came under fire over his failure to secure the repayment of the duty waiver from the new Ritz owners, with whom he engaged in a public spat as he accused them of manipulating the sale price to avoid the real stamp duty rate.

While the Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States went to the polls, despite calls from many directions, including 92% of CNS pollsters, for Bush to step down, the premier pressed on, lurching from controversy to controversy and blaming everyone, from the media to the governor, for the lack of an economic turnaround.

His education minister stood trial over his DUI charge, with witnesses revealing that the minister had told three different stories about the circumstances surrounding his one vehicle collision on the West Bay Road in the early hours of the morning of the accident. However, before the trial concluded the minister changed his position and entered a guilty plea.

With the question of how Cayman would vote in the 2013 general election to accommodate the constitutional requirement for three extra seats still in question, a new political group emerged that denied being a party but said it would offer support for independent candidates. The Coalition for Cayman (C4C), which called itself an advocacy group, attracted hundreds to its first meeting but was later to attract controversy because of its ambiguity and its former links to the UDP.

Eventually, just weeks before the deadline for the election writs, Bush implemented what he and many believed to be the worst of options for the 2013 general election, giving the capital six seats and electors there six votes.

With the implementation of the Bill of Rights, the independent member for North Side issued a warning that the obvious inequality in Cayman’s voting system could very well be challenged in the courts as being both contrary to those newly bestowed human rights as well as being unconstitutional.

An FOI request revealed that the deputy premier had racked up a $200k travel bill since taking office on trips as far afield as Kenya and Sri Lanka, as well as a controversial trip to a postal conference in Doha, which cost the public purse more than $41,000.

Meanwhile, over on the opposition benches, the PPM began revealing more details of its newly shaped party as it crowned Moses Kirkconnell as the party's new deputy leader and the first ever official deputy leader of the opposition.

December: The last month of the year started quietly enough with the premier in London for the annual overseas territories meeting. A regional university announced its intention to award Bush with an honorary doctorate and Michael Misick, the former Turks and Caicos premier, was arrested in Brazil in connection with his involvement in a massive corruption scandal.

A week, they say, is a long time in politics and so it was to be for Bush. 

In an unexpected turn of events, more than 18 months after the RCIPS had admitted that Bush was the centre of a police corruption probe and almost 8 months after revelations that he was the subject of two further investigations, the premier was a arrested at his home in West Bay at 7am on 11 December. 

Arrested on suspicion of theft and several offences under the anti-corruption law, the premier was questioned for two days before being released without charge but on police bail until February.

As the story exploded on the world stage, Bush, true to form, remained defiant and protested his innocence. Refusing to resign following his release from custody, he headed off to Jamaica to keep his engagement to speak at a graduation ceremony at the University College of the Caribbean in Kingston,although the college did not in the end bestow the promised honorary Phd. 

Back in Cayman, the silence from his party colleagues was deafening. For some five days the caucus remained in closed door meetings as the opposition and independent members filed a 'no confidence' motion in the country’s parliament. In a surprise move, five of the UDP parliamentary group eventually opted to join with the opposition benches and bring down their own administration.

At a special meeting of the LA, Bush crossed the floor with his remaining loyal members — Mike Adam (which came as a surprise to many), along with Ellio Solomon and Captain Eugene Ebanks (which did not).

One week after the arrest, Bush was ousted from the premiership when the governor agreed to allow the minority UDP five to form a short term government under the leadership of the deputy premier to take Cayman to the next election. The opposition benches agreed  to support the interim government merely to form a quorum, which will enable it to limp on till May.

The UDP suffered further blows before the year was out when one of the party’s leading members, Mario Rankin, was arrested in connection with immigration offences.

Bush had clearly been hoping that all of his colleagues would have continued their support of him as they had since the police probes were first revealed. However, obviously hurt by their actions, the premier came out fighting and held a public meeting in George Town in front of a lively crowd.

With Bush declaring his innocence and insisting his arrest was a UK conspiracy, the UDP party faithful also remained defiant and began moves to oust the members of the minority government from the party.

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  1. The Spin cycle says:

    And as the year ended more people began to question…what have these guys done?? Why have we paid them these folks couldn't find their a**es with both hands in a hall full of mirrors. They haven't solved one single issue.  Not one.  All we've heard are excuses, bickering, and childish finger-pointing.  And besides that… we don't want the dump there! We don't want that road re-located!  Whose ideas were those??  We don't want anymore mangroves chopped down! Where did that idea come from?? We won't pay for anymore of this ridiculous traveling! What became of that?? We don't want a Chinese company building the cruise dock!  Whose decision was that??  Why should they be getting pensions? How did that happen?? Whose in charge?  Wait a minute.  WE ARE and….We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!!!!


    Standy by for the surprising conclusion.

  2. SANDFLY says:

    Poor Mac foopish, dog eat his supper in 2012. The me myself and I man was picked up @ 7 am in the morning like a common gangster. The people he did the most for turned their backs on him. He was so hurted. The Loyal Stooge Ellio will man the corners of all George Town  with tin can in hand collecting money for the defense of his over lord Mac Foopish. I can see him running now for public office with a platform "I have no shame an oil refinery in every district".

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Whatever became of the MOU signed in June 2011 for the oil refinery? I think the public is entitled to an update and indeed on all MOUs signed by Mr Bush and his brilliant advisory team, including the one relating to Cayman Airways. Transparency is the order of the day.

  3. Anonymous says:

    How has the Education Minister "survived" to become Deputy Premier?  Guilty of a most serious motoring offence and such a poor example to set for students.

     Contacting a Police Inspector in West Bay, instead of calling 911, why?

    Giving the police three different stories of how the collision occurred.

    Only changing his plea to guilty at the 11th hour, probably when he was advised  that the expert from Miami would prove that his excuse for the breathaliser reading being so high was not based on fact.

    If he knew the lady whom he was driving with at 3am then he is lying in stating that he did not know her. If he did not know her then he displayed very poor judgement, for a Minister to be driving an unknown female around in the middle of the night.

    So many reasons why a man of integrity would have already resigned.

    Given that he did not resign, then why did the Premier not sack him?

  4. Anon says:

    This is our children’s future that is at stake. I have worked far too hard, and sacrificed far too much, to let a bunch of spineless, greedy, self-serving politicians force my childrento work for the subsistence way of life these politicians have subjected me to.

    You can help to stop the corruption with your vote.

    Think about integrity, who has demonstrated it, and who has not. Vote your conscience, not your short term gain.

    Just my two cents.

  5. CayStudent says:

    If the people of the Cayman Islands reelect the UDP (United Dumb People), I've honestly lost all hope as a Caymanian. 


  6. Anonymous says:

    A good account of 2012 CNS, however, you could propbaly update June's info by revealing that the former NHDT board member was Edlin Myles that was arrested and charged.


    People need to know who they are dealing with.

    • Anonymous says:

      The UDP and its leader is one hot mess, these are the days of their lives, as their  world turns,  to the guiding light of the premier. 





  7. Anynomous says:

    I prefer blogging on the Compass because they split justice among all instead of digging up dirt on Bush.

  8. Anonymous says:

    well done for documenting the failures of this shambolic administration…. it would also be interesting to list all their other failures in their first 3 years……

  9. St Peter says:

    Misick was arrested in December?

    And Mckeeva was arrested too?

    I did not see those two coming…

  10. Anonymous says:

    incompetence beyond belief….by all udp members……

  11. Anonymous says:

    Wow! You couldn't make this stuff up…

    What a mess, MacShambles and his UDP cronies have caused.

    Let's not forget and vote them all out!!!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Sobering indeed! Thanks for summarising, as the year has gone past each of these incidents has shocked most reasonable people, but to see them all at once, and then to remember past history all the way back to First Cayman is to wonder how he has survived this far. I sincerely hope that in his stupidity he has left a paper trail that will see justice done.

    What is still worrying is that the new premier is possibly as bad because she seems to have a sullen lack of concern as she wastes CIG money, at least Bush had a sort of swagger! Put them all out of office, and preferably in a nice secure place whwere they can do no harm.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Not a good year for Cayman politics, or Cayman as a whole. The electorate needs to find alternate candidates who are really interested in getting Cayman working. Those candidates will not be the ones promising the earth to the electorate or delivering new fridges…think about it Cayman…think long and hard…and like other countries, we may have to take some pain to get back on a sound financial footing. A bankrupt Cayman is no good to anyone, local or ex-pat.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Wendy …this sucks!  no more McKeeva, CNS will become so boring! 

    I guess the old saying "the pen is mightier than the sword is true."

    Who's next? Julie, maybe?? Skeletons where are you?????

    • Anonymous says:

      The people of the Cayman Islands monies are spent in yard pacings, they are easy skeletons to find and should be paid back. What do you say to that Mr Taylor. Real sorry for our good Governor as he certainly have his hands full.

  15. Anonymous says:

    …and the fab 5 sat quiet during this entire fiasco!