GIS boss must disclose salary

Staff salaries can remain confidential

In the first hearing of its kind in Cayman, the Information Commissioner has ruled that the salary of the head of the Government Information Services boss should be fully disclosed.

Jennifer Dilbert, the Information Commissioner, issued a decision on Thursday that it was in the public interest to disclose the salary of the Acting Chief Information Officer, a position held by Angela Piercy.

She also ruled that the salary bands of other government employees be revealed to within the nearest $10,000, but that the specific salaries of staff should not be revealed.

The ruling was in response to a Freedom of Information request from a Caymanian Compass journalist filed on 6 January for information on salaries, titles, bonuses, job descriptions and travel expenses of Government Information Services staff for the 2008/2009 financial year.

The Government Information Services responded with a list of employees and titles, contracts, pay grades and expenses. However, it denied the request for specific salaries on 1 May stating it was an ‘unreasonable request’ for personal information.

CFP appealed the decision, asking the Information Commissioner to reconsider the matter.

Mrs. Dilbert ruled that disclosing the exact salary or salary increases ‘could potentially reveal personal characteristics of the individual’ and therefore was classified as personal information under the Freedom of Information law.

All GIS employees were included as parties to the appeal.

The majority of GIS staff, when asked for their opinion on whether their salaries should be released, objected to the disclosure, with one citing a fear of identity theft, while another said it could put him or her at risk of attack.

Two employees, however, consented to the release of their specific salaries.

Mrs. Dilbert in her ruling concluded that ‘the salary bands relate to the public lives of the employees and the exact salary relates to the private lives of the employees’.

The hearing was conducted via emails and post, with the first submissions presented on 26 June.

GIS likely to appeal Mrs. Piercey told the Caymanian Compass on Friday it was likely she would appeal the order to reveal her salary through the courts.

‘I haven’t made a firm decision yet, but at this time I’m inclined to take the case to judicial review, in order to have a legal precedent set by the courts.

‘All of us are learning about FOI, and in the process of establishing precedent that potentially could affect a number of civil servants, I think GIS is duty bound to ensure that the case receives the judicial attention it deserves,’ she said.

If GIS chooses to appeal the Commissioner’s decision, it has 45 days from the date of the ruling to to do so. If it opts not to apply for a judicial review of the decision, it must reveal the salary details by 14 September.

Commenting on the completion of her first decision under the FOI law, which was introduced in Cayman on 5 January, Mrs. Dilbert said: ‘I am very pleased that the procedure we put in place has worked,’ adding that she hoped all parties would be satisfied with the report.

The Information Commissioner considered whether the salaries of GIS employees were personal information, if it was in the public interest to disclose salaries, and if the disclosure of salary information would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

In justifying her reasons for asking that the salary of a government employee in a senior management position be revealed, the Information Commissioner said: ‘Common sense and the FOI law strongly suggest that the higher and more influential the post, the greater the need for transparency, and this includes more disclosure of personal information, for example, qualifications.’

Salary bands too broad

The salary bands of all 18 grades in the Civil Service have been publicly available for more than 10 years, but Mrs. Dilbert ruled that those bands were too broad. She cited one band that ranged from a low of CI$9,000 to a high of CI$27,672.

She said: ‘Most troubling is the fact that the more senior the public servant, the wider the salary band and therefore the less clear the accountability,’ noting that the Acting Chief Information Officer was paid between $80,208 to $107,880.

GIS argued that releasing information of salaries in Cayman would have a distinct effect on employees ‘from how much they are quoted for home repairs to whether or not they should stay in the Civil Service or instead seek jobs in the private sector, where their rights to privacy would be honoured.’

But Mrs. Dilbert said that none of the statements made by GIS, its staff or the Civil Service Association on how the disclosure of salaries would prejudice the conduct of public affairs and said those arguments were ‘at best, conjecture’.

She said the intent of the section of the FOI law covering the effective conduct of public affairs ‘is not to protect people from discomfort, hurt feelings or strained relationships’, and ruled that that section did not apply to the records in dispute.