Legal advice is being sought by government on whether a public official’s salary should be released under Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law, after two requests for certain workers’ salaries were made by the Caymanian Compass.
According to FOI Unit Coordinator Carole Excell a recommendation was made last year that senior government officials’ pay should be available for public review, but that those in lower-ranking civil service positions shouldn’t have to divulge their salaries.
‘For people who are not senior, we don’t think their salaries should be made available,’ Mrs. Excell said at the time.
The FOI Law (2007) is not specific on whether government salaries should be exempted from public release.
The first request made by the Compass was for the salary paid to Acting Police Commissioner James Smith including any incentives, overtime, bonus pay and the like. The newspaper also requested a copy of his six-month contract with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
According to a response from the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, the request was delayed for a further 30 days while officials sought ‘legal advice with regards to personal information of a civil servant.’
The published salary for the police commissioner’s post advertised earlier this year was roughly between CI$109,000 and $130,000. Mr. Smith was one of 37 applicants for the full-time position.
The Compass filed the open records request to determine whether the acting commissioner’s current pay fell within the range stated in the job posting.
A second request was made by the Compass for the salaries and job titles of all personnel currently employed by Government Information Services.
GIS officials responded by providing a salary range for each position, similar to what is legally required to be advertised in a local newspaper by employers. However, specific salaries were not immediately provided because that part of the request was still being reviewed.
There are exceptions under the FOI Law where an individual’s personal data may be excluded from a government record that is released to the public.
If government records contain personal information of third parties who may or may not have anything to do with the initial request, those parties must be notified that the request could include their personal information. However, it is unclear whether salaries paid with public money are considered ‘personal information.’
In such disputed cases, the third party or parties would be given 28 calendar days from the date the notice was sent to them to either consent to the release of the records or challenge the release. If a decision is made to release the records in whole or in part, the third party may appeal to the Information Commissioner to reconsider the move.
Personal information includes the person’s name, home address, telephone number, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, identifying numbers, fingerprints, biometric information, health records and the like. It can also include views expressed about the individual, the person’s views or opinions, and information about any public contracts held by the individual.
In cases where a person is notified that records containing their personal information have been requested, the name of the person requesting the records will not be revealed. In fact, it is not necessary for the requester to even provide a real name for these types of requests.
Under no circumstances is any government agency allowed to ask those making open records requests the reasons they are making those requests. The open records law applies to all government entities, including statutory authorities and government companies. Certain exemptions are given to the Cayman Islands’ court system which already has its own process for obtaining records.