FS admits c/c policy mistake

| 18/09/2014

(CNS): Defence attorney Geoffrey Cox QC wasted no time Wednesday getting the financial secretary to admit he had “made a mistake” about an important piece of evidence relating to the charges against his client, McKeeva Bush. Ken Jefferson conceded that there was no formal, written policy that directly related to the use of government credit cards before July 2010, despite what he told the police. Cross examining the financial secretary, Cox asked how Jefferson could have made such a mistake in his statement on such an important issue. Pressing him to explain to the jury, Cox said, “Tell them, Mr Jefferson, tell them! They want to know why their premier is in the dock.”

Admitting that there was no written policy he said, “I made a mistake,” as he acknowledged that he had left the police with the impression that there was a formal policy in place prior to July 2010 when a written policy was circulated to government ministers and officials. The Financial Secretary (FS) also admitted that he had not rectified that impression until after Bush was ousted from office and until after the general election.

During his cross examination of Jefferson on the evidence he gave the police in connection with the charges against his client, Cox also raised the issue of the direct involvement in the case of the former governor, Duncan Taylor, and evidence of an unusual exchange about Jefferson from the lead investigator of the Anti-Corruption Unit. Cox revealed that an email sent by Richard Oliver to Commissioner of Police David Baines indicated they believed Jefferson would be “committed to our cause”when speaking about the financial secretary signing a statement for the investigation.

Jefferson denied being part of or knowing anything about the “cause” that the anti-corruption cop was referring to. He did, however, admit that he had copied the then governor, Duncan Taylor, on an email he had sent to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson about a meeting with Bush the day after his arrest. But the financial secretary said it was a matter of being complete, given the circumstances, and denied knowing that Taylor had forwarded that email to the police commissioner.

The court heard that Jefferson had composed an email to the deputy governor about a meeting he had been summoned to at Bush’s own residence the day after the then premier’s arrest and the day before a no confidence motion was moved in the Legislative Assembly ousting Bush from office in December 2012.

The FS stated in the email that the premier had given him an assignment to gather all of the credit card statements held by senior government officials, with a few exceptions, and details of expenses at Government House. He then instructed Jefferson to organize an independent review of the statements and the use of credit cards. Jefferson also related, in that email, some of the uses Bush had said he had put his own government card to and the reasons for withdrawing cash in casinos, which had included paying for security personnel.

The email was sent to Franz Manderson andcopied to Sonia McLaughlin, the chief officer of the finance ministry (who accompanied Jefferson to Bush’s home for the meeting) and, the jury heard, the governor. The court was told that, having received the email, Duncan Taylor had forwarded the correspondence immediately to the police commissioner, stating, “David, you need to see this.”

Jefferson said he was unaware of the governor’s involvement in the investigation and to the best of his recollection he had no conversations with Taylor about the Bush enquiry.

During his time on the stand Jefferson admitted that in his first statement to the police he had referred to an earlier policy regarding the management of credit cards. But he told the court that he had later corrected that, explaining that what he referred to as a policy was the memo sent out with claim forms to ministers or civil service bosses when they returned from travel. These memos directed officials on how to reconcile their travel expenses. The court heard that these memos also referred card holders to the civil service General Orders, which covered the management of travel and entertainment expenses for government officials. Those orders set out the do's and don’ts regarding what were legitimate expenses, the court heard.

However, during his cross examination of the crown witness, Cox established that not only was there no formal written policy relating directly to government credit cards, there appeared to be no ban on the personal use of those cards. Pointing to the forms being used at the time that Bush is charged with abusing his government credit card in casinos, the lawyer noted a section on the reconciliation forms asking for holders to detail any personal expenses. He questioned why, if officials were not allowed to charge personal items, the forms would include such a provision for personal expenditures and a system for paying them back.

Cox suggested that not only did the forms make it clear that personal expenditure was common, with a provision for officials to list what they owed, the document offered officials three different ways to pay the money back – cash, cheque or salary deduction.

The defence attorney also noted that Bush’s efforts to have Jefferson initiate an independent review of credit card use was because “everyone else was doing the same thing”, as he asked the financial secretary why he believed Bush had set him such and assignment. “You are not a twit, Mr Jefferson. Why do youthink Mr Bush had requested such an assignment?”

Responding to the lawyer, Jefferson acknowledged that the thought had crossed his mind.

During his first appearance before the jury, Bush’s attorney established that there did not appear to be a specific ban on personal use for credit cards, that there was a provision for the debts to be repaid and that Bush was far from the only person making personal charges on his CIG card. Jefferson also confirmed, when asked by Cox, that to his knowledge no public servant or minister had ever been reprimanded or suffered any consequences as a result of personal use on a government credit card.

When he re-examined the crown witness, Duncan Penny QC, who is prosecuting the case against Bush on behalf of the the crown, questioned Jefferson further about the General Orders.

He established that there were policy guidelines about what was legitimate and what wasn’t when it came to expenses before the July 2010 policy. Jefferson said that government officials were guided by the General Orders, which was what he had referred to when he originally spoke to the police about a policy. 

Penny also asked Jefferson about the provision in the General Orders requiring officials using cash advances, at the time, to pay personal charges back. The lawyer asked him if he believed that section meant government officials could do whatever they liked so long as they paid it back. Jefferson said in hisopinion it did not.

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