FOI requests drag on

Certain requests for government information under Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law (2007) continue to drag on for months beyond time periods specified in the law, particularly those that deal with employee salaries and those that seek specific information about government expenditures.

The delays in the open records application and appeals process were foretold earlier this year by Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert, who warned that her own office was bogging down with appeal requests due to understaffing and other administrative issues.

For instance, on Tuesday the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs decided to release the salary and benefits paid to former Acting Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner James Smith. That decision came following an appeal to the Information Commissioner’s office.

Following mediation between the portfolio and the commissioner’s office, it was decided that the information should be released.

An internal review process done by the portfolio in May led to a decision at that time to exclude the former acting commissioner’s exact salary and benefits from release.

‘I am of the view that release of this information would involve unreasonable disclosure of personal information,’ then-Deputy Chief Secretary Donovan Ebanks wrote.

The initial request was made by the Compass in February.

Mr. Smith left the Cayman Islands in late May.

The Compass submitted the request for the former acting commissioner’s salary to determine whether it fell within the pay range being advertised for the full-time commissioner’s position. It did.

Payments for the former acting commissioner’s motorcar, housing and utilities, as well as a CI$75 allowance for laundry were included in addition to the salary.

Mrs. Dilbert ruled earlier this year that the annual pay of the head of a government department should be released even if the salaries of lower-paid employees were not. That ruling related to a Compass request for the salaries of all Government Information Services employees.

Mrs. Dilbert also said that government pay grades, known as salary bands, should be reduced so that the salary range would not exceed $10,000 for any position.

That ruling by Mrs. Dilbert, however, has not led to any release of salary information from the Government Information Services office.

A deadline of 1 October has been set for GIS to appeal the commissioner’s ruling in that case. There has been no indication given as to whether an appeal to the court will be made.

Further confusion with open records requests has occurred following a Compass request for specific expenditures approved by Cabinet in May.

That request was initially sent to the Cabinet Office, which forwarded the matter to the Portfolio of Finance. Following more than a month of consideration, the portfolio sent the request for information back to the Cabinet Office, having decided they were better suited to deal with the request.

No response had been received by the Compass on the request at press time.