(CNS): The entire Cayman Islands opposition walked out of the chamber of the Legislative Assembly Wednesday morning in solidarity after Speaker McKeeva Bush reprimanded Deputy Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo and directed the premier to move a motion to suspend him for the day. Suckoo had refused to apologise over allegations he had “impugned” a member of the House during a debate last week, which he has categorically refuted. The issue relates to the speaker’s belief that, during a debate in Cayman Brac, Suckoo accused him of being connected to a Chinese firm that is understood to be bidding on the controversial cruise port project — a connection that Bush has been at pains to deny.
The saga began during the proceedings on Cayman Brac last week when Speaker Bush reprimanded the opposition on a number of occasions.
During one of the ‘scoldings’, the speaker alleged that Suckoo had been trying to impugn him over alleged connections to China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), which, despite documents in the public domain indicating a link, Bush has denied working with and threatened to sue anyone who says otherwise.
During his contribution to the debate on the private member’s motion calling for government to hold a referendum on the cruise berthing project, Suckoo had indicated that there were documents in the public domain about the bidding process that were cause for concern.
Although Suckoo, the member for Newlands, did not mention China Harbour Engineering Company or the speaker by name, Bush nevertheless interjected to stop him from continuing down that line and implied that he was trying to imply something about the speaker.
When the members returned to the Legislative Assembly building in George Town today, before they began the business on the order paper, Bush rose to give a statement about the debate last week.
He tabled a number of documents, including a screen shot of a text conversation between Suckoo and Scott Henderson, the local representative for CHEC, about Bush and China Harbour Engineering Company, as well as an email from Henderson and a letter from CHEC, both addressed to Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell, refuting that Bush had any connection to the Chinese firm.
In his statement, before ordering the premier to move a motion to suspend Suckoo, Bush demanded an apology for “impugning the character of a member” of the LA. Suckoo, however, refused and, referring to his debate, emphasised the fact that he had not mentioned either Bush or CHEC and had merely referred to unspecified rumours circulating in the public domain that gave rise to questions and concerns about the port bidding process.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon following the exit by the entire opposition, including independent MLA Kenneth Bryan, Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller said Suckoo had been “unjustly censured” and that the original Hansard record shows that Suckoo made no reference to China Harbour Engineering Company or the speaker.
He indicated that the opposition was planning to make a report to the Anti-Corruption Commission because the issue was now giving rise to much wider concerns.
Miller said that what was missing from the documents the speaker tabled this morning was the memo written by Bush under his company, WMB International Consulting Ltd, indicating his interactions with CHEC and another Chinese firm, Sinopharm, in Belize.
The opposition leader and his deputy also raised concerns about the email from Henderson, saying that it contained false information, along with the text exchange, which was a tiny part of a much longer chain.
“I have grave concerns about the contents of the correspondence tabled this morning,” Miller said. “We are concerned that information contained in the correspondence may need to be reported to and investigated by the Anti-Corruption Commission.”
He added, “We are also concerned that the screen shot may be in violation of the ICTA law.” Miller said that the opposition would be taking their concerns to the ACC on Wednesday evening.
He indicated that the opposition has more documentation in their possession that painted a different picture about claims made by Henderson, and the missing part of the text exchange between him and Suckoo that was omitted from the documents tabled by the speaker.
Miller said the opposition could not reveal this information in detail because they were now, as public officials, obligated under the law to report what they had to the ACC.
Speaking about the snapshot of the text messages, which he said was not the full picture, Suckoo said, “I had taken the contents at face value, but now I am duty bound to report the matter to the Anti-Corruption Commission, as it is now clear that the exchange may have some deeper implications.”
He also made it clear that, despite the allegations by Henderson in his email, it was Henderson who had first approached Suckoo, not the other way round, inquiring what he, as the constituency MLA, might know about the port bid.
Miller said he was also concerned that a member of the Legislative Assembly has been stopped from doing his job — to raise concerns about serious issues reported to him by his constituents.
“Given what has transpired since the swearing-in ceremony of the new Assembly and how the legislature has been operating, the opposition must now consider all the options available to them.”
Miller would not detail what those options were but he did not rule out a motion of no confidence in the speaker, who, the opposition members all believe, has been unfair in his dealings. Miller denied playing politics and said it was “regrettable that parliament had been dragged down to this level”, as he made a number of references to actions by the speaker in plain sight that the opposition believe have been extremely unfair and inappropriate.
Arden McLean, the veteran member for East End who has had more than his fair share of run-ins with Bush since he became speaker, railed against his frequent interjections and involvement in the political fray. McLean pointed out that when Bush accepted the speaker’s position he had withdrawn from that, and if he wanted to be back in the fight, he needed to resign from the chair and return to the floor of the chamber.
Bryan (GTC), the independent member who joined the opposition in the walkout, raised his concerns about all the MLAs on the government benches and their response to this incident. He said that while the speaker had directed the premier to move the motion, the government members were under no obligation to support it.
But, with the exception of Bernie Bush who voted against the motion, the other eleven government members, including the back-benchers, may have looked very uncomfortable but they all voted for Suckoo’s suspension.
Bryan queried why it was that the government was so quick to support the speaker over this issue when, despite his protestations that he has “no affiliations” to China Harbour Engineering Company, there is documentation that suggests a connection.
Chris Saunders (BTW) queried why the government had “used so much political capital” defending this motion, indirectly protecting CHEC and any link there, when the government is in talks with cruise port bidders, one of which is CHEC.
“If CHEC wins the cruise bid, there will be issues for us all to be concerned about,” he added.
Bush was first connected to CHEC when he was premier between 2009 and 2012, when he made an arbitrary decision to cancel talks with a firm called GLF on a previous port project proposal and opened dialogue with the Chinese firm instead.
But shortly before Bush was ousted from office in the well-documented scandal surrounding allegations of abuse of his government credit card — for which he was acquitted following a trial — the FCO intervened and stopped the potential deal between CIG and CHEC.
Since then, as recently reported on CNS, Bush has admitted being in Belize doing some consultation work for another Chinese firm, Sinopharm. In an open letter dated 26 June this year, the speaker said he had been in Belize consulting for Sinopharm and “introducing CHEC to possible investments” in that country.
McLean revealed that WMB International Consulting had not been declared by the speaker in the Legislative Assembly Register of Interests until 28 August, despite the indication from the June letter that the company had been doing consulting work for at least two months. CNS had checked the register a few days before Bush filed the company and asked him why it was not registered, but he said that it would be after the forthcoming update.
McLean also conducted a company search and learned that WMB Consulting was listed with the Companies Register in May of this year but there is no record of any company by the name of WMB International Consulting.
Expressing his concerns about the entire episode, in particular the government’s position on the issue, McLean said there is clearly some remaining link between Bush and CHEC at a time when the company is involved in the process of bidding on this country’s biggest ever capital works project.
McLean reminded the public that the premier, when he was opposition leader, had been very concerned about Bush’s plans for CHEC to be the developer on the port project and supported the FCO’s intervention. The East End member wondered where those concerns were now.
CNS note: Due to what officials have said was a lightning strike the recording equipment in the LA was damaged, causing challenges for the live-feed from the Chamber. As a result, the statement by the speaker was not available at the time this report was first published. GIS has since been able to provide the audio footage and where available a wide shot. Hear the full statement and the speaker’s claims that he has no business associations with CHEC and his demand for an apology on CIGTV below: