AG: Gov’t salaries not public

The specific salaries of government employees should generally not be released under Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law, according to a legal opinion given to information managers of government departments.

The opinion, penned by a Crown counsel in the Attorney General’s office, advises that ‘salary bands’ — or the range within which a government employee’s pay falls — should be released. But the actual salary and any bonuses or incentive pay should be withheld because they are considered personal information.

‘Salary details and bonuses personal to the individuals should be exempted (from release) unless the public interest in favour of disclosure justifies the reasonableness of such disclosure,’ the opinion stated in its conclusion.

The Caymanian Compass has made three separate requests for the salaries of government employees.

The first was a request for the salaries and other emoluments paid to all elected members of the Legislative Assembly. The second was a request for the salary and six-month contract given to Acting Police Commissioner James Smith. The third request asked for the salaries, titles, job descriptions and travel expenses for members of Government Information Services.

The Government Information Services office has already released information on the salary bands, job descriptions and travel of its employees. The other two requests have not been answered to date.

The legal opinion issued on 30 April said there should be a differentiation between information related to the position or function of a public servant and information that remains personal to them.

For instance, a travel or constituent allowance attached to a lawmaker’s post would be information relative to the office and therefore subject to public disclosure. But a specific salary paid to that individual would not.

In the case of Cayman Islands lawmakers, it was unclear whether a ‘salary band’ had been assigned to each elected position, or whether each was given a specific salary. The Legislative Assembly office did receive a list of specific salaries, but that the legal opinion of 30 April has at least temporarily prevented its disclosure.

‘The Legislative Assembly is not a public authority for the purpose of the (Freedom of Information) Law,’ the opinion stated.

The salary request was transferred to the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs and no further response was received as of press time.

In the case of the acting police commissioner’s salary and contract, the opinion stated that the contract itself would not be personal information and therefore should be public unless the release of certain details would lead to a breach of confidence.

The commissioner’s personal salary should not be released, the opinion recommended.

The legal department’s opinion is simply advice that was sought by Freedom of Information Unit Coordinator Carole Excell to help instruct information managers. The Compass has appealed the salary cases to Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert for a formal ruling.