October 31, 2020

MAC CITES MARTIANS

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Premier McKeeva Bush

Calling for changes to the way government obtains goods and services, Premier McKeeva Bush on Friday said he didn’t care if “Martians” got the job done, as long as it was achieved.

“I am answerable as Minister of Finance,” he said, referring specifically to the loosely constructed systems that enabled him to negotiate a $155 million loan, later cancelled, from New York financier Cohen & Company in Oct 2010.

“I want to be at arm’s length, though,” he told a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing, answering a question from Chairman and Sister Islands MLA Moses Kirkconnell, who asked who should lead the changes.

“It could be Martians doing it, I don’t care. But the Cabinet should take the lead,” he told the five-member committee.

Mr Bush was on the stand at the Legislative Assembly Friday morning, defending himself against allegations in an August Auditor General report that he had badly managed the loan facility, lost money and bypassed recommendations of the Central Tenders Committee (CTC).

Quoting at length from an Attorney General summary of the powers of the Minister of Finance, Mr Bush, who holds not only that portfolio, but also that of Tourism and Development, said he was largely empowered to make almost any decision – “to borrow, to make loans, to offer guarantees, to make any fiscal arrangements” — provided he gained Cabinet approval, acted in the national interest and sought to reduce the adverse impact of fluctuations in financial markets.

“While a decision not to proceed can result in legal exposure,” he said of the abrogated Cohen agreement, “if it’s done for credible reasons, Cabinet can legally abandon the process.”

Sister Islands MLA, Moses Kirkconnell

In July last year, in the face of significant deficits, government called for bids to provide a $155 million loan. The Ministry of Finance and the Central Tenders Committee approved a joint tender from FirstCaribbean International Bank and the Royal Bank of Canada, long-time financial resources for the Cayman Islands.

“At no time,” Mr Bush said, “had I any dealings with the chairman or any member of the Central Tenders Committee, nor did I attend or attempt to attend any meetings of the CTC. Neither did I at any time attempt to, or gave any instructions to a member of the CTC. Nor did I attempt to give advice, instruct, or to influence, any member of any technical committee of the Finance Department,” Mr Bush told the PAC, saying that Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson was his “principal adviser” and point of contact in such matters.

He did say, however, that he had been “warned by senior civil servants about the way the CTC was being managed and the way contracts were being awarded, that this country was not getting value for money.

“Far too often”, he said, “certain companies get the business and small businesses are pushed out.”

Treasurer of Mr Bush’s United Democratic Party (UDP), Peter Young, named by the Auditor General as the agent for the Cohen loan, had attended the party’s general council meeting, the premier said, “and asked if he should get Cohen to submit a proposal.”

Mr Bush agreed, he said, but “never had any discussion with him afterwards. He is not my adviser, either to the Minister of Finance, to the premier or to the Department of Finance.”

He lashed out at “scandal mongers”, and blamed media accusations of “wrong and nefarious” deeds, and scolded Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick for poor “phraseology”.

“The Auditor General has to be careful with phraseology. I thought that with the departure of that last cowboy, it would be a little better,” he said, a scathing reference to former Auditor General Dan Duguay, who frequently questioned Mr Bush’s spending decisions, and whose contract was not renewed in 2009.

Audtior General, Alastair Swarbrick

“I don’t appreciate that phraseology. He [Mr Swarbrick] doesn’t even call me ‘Mr’,” the premier said. “It’s totally unfair for people to get smeared before they can defend themselves.”

Nonetheless, he called for broad changes to procurement procedures, saying he hoped to employ more accountants and economists to keep him apprised of spending decisions and account balances, and that tighter structures should better monitor the solicitation of goods and services.

Calling for further audits of the opposition People’s Progressive Movement (PPM), Mr Bush cited “a whole list” of studies that, he said “needed to be done,” not limited to scrutiny of the PPM’s abortive construction of the Frank Sound and John Gray high schools.

“I would just like to say that there are a number of outstanding audits from the previous government that need to be done,” Mr Bush said. “There is whole list from the last six years, and not just the schools alone of spending decisions.”

 

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