· Citizen X is the mother-in-law of an independent member of the legislative assembly. This MLA has been highly criticized by the current administration. Citizen X is also a civil servant who has reason to believe that speaking out could be detrimental to her career.
· Citizen Y is her 79 year-old cousin who is retired with little source of income. She lives off of a small government stipend of less than CI$600 per month. Where possible Citizen X does assist her financially. The property in question is valued at CI$110,000.00 and Citizen Y has lived there most of her life – for over 50 years.
· The stamp duty abatement process started when Marco Archer was Minister of Finance and concluded after Roy McTaggart became his successor.
· Cayman Marl Road has no personal connection to the parties involved in this situation at all. We were approached by the parties in hopes of highlighting what they perceive as an injustice.
· The below is the chronology of events that took place from March – August 2017 while the parties were attempting to add Citizen X to Citizen Y’s property. Cayman Marl Road has reported facts and events that we are certain occurred and have taken every reasonable step to verify the information provided by viewing documents and talking to third party witnesses.
· We have decided to only report the facts and allow our readers to come to their own conclusions. We are not in a position to give the reasons why certain decisions were made but we do know that there are many questions about proper procedure, maladministration and the efficacy of the FOI process that need to be answered.
· CMR stands by the principle that “whatever happens to the least of us, has an effect on all of us.” Simply put we never know when it might be our turn. Full, frank and honest disclosure is required for the proper administration of our government and to hold all persons accountable to the highest possible standards.
· CMR has seen and have the valuation in our possession. However, given the difficulty of redacting the pictures etc of the house we have opted NOT to include it here. It was undertaken by Paul Key Valuers on 13th July 2017. We can confirm the valuation amount is $110,000.00 and for a single dwelling family home of 932 sq. ft. located in the district of Bodden Town. Last upgrades were done in the 1960s.
· Under each event we are attaching the document that supports that fact so that people can see if for themselves. Simply click on the links that say “Supporting Document”.
After reading all of that you might now be asking yourself – WHY DOES THIS MATTER TO ME OR WHY SHOULD I CARE?
In February 2016 the PPM Administration changed the process relating to how stamp duty concessions are handled. They removed the power to waive duty concessions in some instances from the civil servant arm – the financial secretary – and gave it to Cabinet and in some instances the MOF alone.
The Auditor General indicated back then that it opens the door for potential corruption and political inference. While we are not drawing any conclusions with the facts in this situation it is important to understand these are public funds that are being dealt with.
Regardless of who the MOF is, are you comfortable knowing that person now does the calculations and sends the approval letter to Lands and Survey for them to action?
Are you comfortable knowing that 7 parcels of land likely valued over half a million dollars were allowed a complete stamp duty abatement and yet a 79 year-old retiree living on less than $600 monthly government subsidy was not able to add someone onto her property without paying 2 valuation fees PLUS the stamp duty?
Are you comfortable knowing that you can make an official request from a ministry and not receive an appropriate response on official letterhead in an official capacity?
Are you comfortable knowing that a civil servant may have been threatened with her own livelihood because she dared to question why an application was turned down?
Are you comfortable knowing that you can put in an FOI request and after “an extensive search” documents are still missing from the FOI results?
Chronology of Events:
March 10 2017
79 year-old (Citizen Y) contacted Ministry of Finance, Marco Archer, to request that her cousin (Citizen X) be added to her land papers in the event of illness etc. Citizen Y has no spouse or children and states that she takes Citizen X to be like her own daughter and trusts her with her care.
Attachments include birth certificates, birth registration forms and land registry transfer forms for “love and affection”. The package was delivered by hand to the Government Administration building.
Note: This is a fairly common practice in the Cayman Islands. At times, if a person has to be sent overseas for emergency medical and requires funds or assistance via Needs Assessment Unit their property will be used as collateral. In order to assist in the process many people want a person that they consider their “next of kin” or trusted friend on their land papers to facilitate the process.
March 21 2017
Email sent at 9:51 a.m. from the parties confirming the request letter delivered on the 10th March to the MOF and that they inadvertently did not provide contact details in the letter itself. This email provided telephone and email contacts for a response.
March 27 2017
One week later after getting no response to their letter of the 10th March or acknowledgement of the subsequent email on the 21st March Citizen X & Y reached out to local politician Alva Suckoo for assistance.
He sent an email on March 27th to the MOF’s personal assistant (“PA”) asking for them to arrange a meeting with the parties to discuss the request.
April 6 2017
Meeting occurred with the MOF he refused the full abatement on the grounds of love and affection.
Citizen X and Citizen Y were informed verbally by the minister that they could not receive the full waiver because they were not immediate family. She informed him that she was aware that was not a complete bar to him using his discretion as it had been done before and she had proof. There was some discussions that she should provide the proof to him.
After some back and forth on the matter the MOF verbally agreed to a partial discount of 25%. Parties were told that the MOF was going to see via Lands and Surverying Department (L&S) how much the land was valued at.
Email confirms there was a meeting that morning. The email also verifies that the parties understood that L&S were to assess the property and also wanted to confirm the percentage that would be owed to government for the stamp duty was the discounted 25%.
A day or two after this meeting a further email makes reference to a follow-up phone conversation. She was allegedly told that she needed to obtain a valuation herself.
No email was received confirming the 25% discount or even acknowledging the meeting. No instructions were provided regarding specific valuators that needed to be used. As a result of Citizen X instructed a company to prepare a valuation for her; only to discover later they were not on the approved list.
It was not until several months later that Lindora sent an email which you can view below indicating the correct process. This caused an issue because the company she chose was not on the list of approved valuators. This was done at the expense of Citizen X.
Because there were no instructions provided in writing, an oddity for a government ministry, Citizen X paid for 2 separate valuations.
When she finally received official correspondence from the MOF office it was on June 28 when the new government minister was already in office.
Note: The amount calculated would be CI$8,250.00 on the 7.5%. However, as this was not an outright transfer Citizen X would be paying half of that to be added onto the property and the proposal then was to give her a discount of 25% on her half.
We should note that this is not a huge amount of money. However, the parties do not have excess funds and based on facts paid for 2 valuations and the stamp duty.
April 20, 2017: Email sent at 6:57 a.m. confirming a phone conversation with the MOF the day before where allegations were made regarding why Citizen X wanted to have this transaction done. Citizen X expresses disappointment that the MOF believed she was doing this transaction for some nefarious reasons. The email also confirms that she was told by the MOF that she would be reported to the Deputy Governor for disciplinary action as a civil servant.
This came about because she was requesting additional information on why the application was turned down in light of the fact that she was aware of others who had gotten the stamp duty waived and were not even related in any way for similar transactions.
The email also makes mention that a request for a meeting to show documentation was denied and that it took over 1 month to receive any response from his office.
NO response was sent on official government letterhead and signed by the MOF as one might have expected. Instead an email was sent from his secretary requesting the valuation and other documents.
MAY 24th was the general election and Marco Archer was not retuned to public office. Instead Roy McTaggart is made MOF by the PPM led coalition government.
June 12, 2017: A letter was sent to the new MOF essentially asking again for the complete waiver and explaining why and attaching supporting documentation as was done previously.
A phone conversation was held to discuss the matter further with Diandra Bodden
(secretary to MOF).
A follow-up email sent at 7:42 p.m. to Diandra Bodden confirming the conversation that occurred earlier that day and sending attachments that were requested during that discussion so that the full waiver could be considered.
June 15, 2017
Citizen X received an email at 4:02 p.m.with some attachments from the new MOF, Roy McTaggart. Also, she was instructed that she was not to email him directly but instead should send all correspondence to the secretary Lindora Aune.
A denial letter of the same date was oddly sent via postal service and not mentioned at all in this email. At this point, Citizen X did not know that she had been denied the full abatement yet again and that a denial letter was sent.
Question: Why would they not have mentioned the fact that she was turned down in an email send almost at the end of the work day?
In the letter reference is made to the fact that the parties are not immediate family per section 9(a) of the Schedule to the Stamp Duty Law (2013 Revision). Confirms 7.5% is payable on the market value.
A meeting was requested.
Question: s.9(a) does not require the MOF's involvement at all much less to use his discretion why would you mention it as a reason to turn down the application? At no time did the parties say they were applying under this section or that they were immediate family.
Note: It is customary for such letters to be sent via email especially when the correspondence between the parties had been done almost entirely in that medium.
June 20, 2017
In attendance were Citizen X, Citizen Y, Minister McTaggart and Lindora Aune. The MOF did NOT mention the denial letter which was later received dated the 15th June.
Question: Why wasn't the letter mentioned in this meeting if it had really been sent on the 15th – some 5 days prior?
This meeting centered around the completely new request for the stamp duty abatement. According to the parties the MOF informed them that he was unable to waive stamp duty according to the law. Citizen X states that she informed him that it was done for others before using the minister's discretion but “he was adamant that he could not do so”.
She then asked him what about the 25% discount she has previously been offered and he then indicated that he would go and speak with the former MOF about what transpired and then make his decision. At this point she expressed some dismay about that approach given what had transpired previously with that MOF. The terms she used to describe her experience to date were “unfair”.
However, the new MOF stated that was the only way he could deal with the matter. It was at this stage that she produced a document under a previous MOF (in a past administration) where it had been done. She was then told that was no longer relevant.
Question: Why would an existing Minister feel it necessary to discuss ministerial decisions past or present with a former minister who is now a member of the general public? Wouldn't all of the necessary information required to render a decision be on file and available to him?
June 26, 2017:
Email sent from Citizen X at 1:40 p.m. thanking the new MOF for a meeting on Tuesday 20th June – also the email confirms that the new minister said he would have to speak with the previous MOF regarding her application submitted previously.
This is clearly a follow-up email to the meeting on the 20th as she had not heard further from his office on a final decision.
Note: Her email incorrectly states the meeting was on the 30th June but obviously that date was incorrect.
She received a letter by postal mail dated the 15th June indicating the request had been denied. She cannot recall the exact date this letter was received. However, there is no mention of the 25% discount promised by the previous MOF but instead it stated:
Therefore, your request for a waiver of stamp duty is hereby DENIED and 7.5% stamp duty of the current market value is payable in full as levied by the Department of Lands and Survey.
June 28, 2017
Email received from the MOF’s secretary indicating that the new minister would be giving a 25% discount – which is the same terms that the previous minister had verbally agreed to.
It finally provided what valuators are approved by the ministry.
Note: The letter from the ministry’s secretary indicates that on the meeting of the 20th Citizen X was asking for the 25% discount. Citizen X denies this is the case and the evidence seems to support her assertions. Her email of the 26th does not indicate that there was any discussion at that point about the 25%. Instead it simply states that the current MOF would speak with the former MOF and revert back to her.
June 29, 2017
FOI request submitted by a 3rd party asking for:
A copy of any abatements of stamp duty between March 1st 2017 and June 30th 2017 by the Minister of Finance.
I am also requesting a copy of the letter of abatement of stamp duty for the following Block and Parcel numbers:
328 12, 31, 46.
32C 30, 31, 55, 68.
FOI Deputy Information Officer, Asenath Blake, claims that an extensive search was conducted:
Also note, however, that despite an extensive search no letters of abatement of stamp duty were found for Block and Parcel numbers: 328: 12, 31, 46; 32C: 30, 31, 55, 68.
Note: at this point the parties had in their possession a letter dated June 22nd from the MOF replacing a letter of March 20th by the previous MOF approving an abatement for 7 parcels of that were a complete transfer between in-laws.
It appears that a sister-in-law and her brother-in-law requested a full abatement on the parcels mentioned above.
Their approval letter was sent on the 20th March – a mere 10 days after Citizen X & Y submitted their first attempt at a waiver. Then on 22nd June they received a further extension on that original approval as they did not action the transfers in the allotted time frame.
Interestingly enough their L&S transfer documents were dated on the 20th June; some 2 days after the letter. It does appear that the transfer documents were being processed on July 5th and perhaps they noticed that the original letter was outdated.
This part CMR cannot be certain of but we do make note of a L&S stamp where it indicates that the documents were received on the 26th June.
The transfer documents were signed on the 20th of June and signatures witnessed by PPM Bodden Town Office Manager and unsuccessful Savannah candidate Heather Bodden.
July 21, 2017
Citizen X emailed the requested valuation to the MOF and paid the stamp duty on the 28th August.
July 31, 2017-August 23
A series of emails are exchanged regarding the discrepancy in the FOI documents received and a meeting is requested with the Deputy Information Officer. After a bit of back and forth she forwarded the matter to Mr. Kenneth Jefferson who is Financial Secretary & Chief Officer for the Ministry of Finance.
Note: Cayman Marl Road is requesting some additional information on the missing FOI documents and are continuing with this investigation to see what else we can confirm transpired here.
Here is me typing I am going to keep typing this out.