First FOI response

The auditor’s general office is the first department to provide documentation to the Caymanian Compass under the new Freedom of Information Act.

The Compass requested access to the auditor general’s report into irregularities in the accounts of the University College of the Cayman Islands. Shortly after the initial draft copy of the report was sent to the UCCI Board of Governors, former President Hassan Syed resigned from the university citing illness. He is now under police investigation.

Whole swathes of the document shown to the Compass were redacted with the first 20 pages of the document containing line after line of black in because it dealt with the issues involved in the police investigation such as credit card transactions and the ex-president’s personal expenses.

Other redacted sections deal with a six-months salary advance and consultancy fees paid to Mr. Syed.

The Compass had previously obtained a copy of the discussion draft version of the report.

Auditor General Dan Duguay said his office had consulted police on what parts of the report fell under their investigation.

‘The request was sent to the police so they could understand what was being requested. We did not need their approval, but we were looking specifically if any items we were going to release were not part of their police investigation.

‘It’s our document, we don’t need approval to release it, but we wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page,’ Mr. Duguay said.

As well as matters involving the police investigation – about which little has been released by police, other than to say no charges have yet been laid against Mr. Syed and that it is still ongoing – the auditor general’s office also informed the university’s Board of Governors and information manager.

‘It was our document to the board. It is our responsibility to make the determination what goes out or does not,’ Mr. Duguay said.

Deputy Auditor General Garnet Harrison, who is the office’s information manager, said he hopes to deal with FOI requests as quickly as possible. ‘This was our first FOI request, so it was interesting to deal with it and go through the process.’

He said other redacted information in the document dealt with third parties’ privacy and rights.

This included blacking out specific job titles within the university about which the report raised concerns over the posts not being publicly advertised, or unusual salary arrangements and revenue sharing for individuals.

Other data also blacked out was the name of a local church for which Mr. Syed had waived $1,000 a month fees for the use of a hall at the university and the name of a contractor that had carried out work on the car park.

Among the information that was revealed in the document was the issuance of credit cards to all executive staff in UCCI, when the Board of Governors had authorised only one credit card to be issued for UCCI office use, with a US$20,000 limit.

It also questioned the wisdom of UCCI opening a 5,830 square foot campus on Cayman Brac and signing a three-year lease, costing $171,402 a year for three years.

After he left the Cayman Islands, Mr. Syed turned up working as a department head at Centennial College in Toronto, a position he took up in early June. However, he resigned that post when news of what had occurred at UCCI reached Centennial’s administration. His whereabouts today are unknown.