AG: Board meetings should be open

The Cayman
Islands’ top attorney opined recently that most meetings of appointed
boards or commissions held here should be open and accessible to members of the
public who wish to attend.

Attorney General Sam Bulgin made
those comments during an interview with the Caymanian Compass that focused on
the country’s new anti-corruption legislation.

“I don’t see why they shouldn’t be
open,” Mr. Bulgin said, referring to the boards. “I like the idea.”

Mr. Bulgin said he could understand
the reasons certain appointed boards, such as those that deal with personal
medical issues or sensitive national security matters, should be held in
private.

“But for planning and so forth, I
don’t see why not,” he said.

In fact, Mr. Bulgin said the new
Bill of Rights section of the redrawn Cayman Islands Constitution may require
certain boards to hold their meetings in public.

In any case, the Freedom of
Information Law will require many of the boards to provide minutes of meetings
once requests for those are made.

The attorney general said the issue
is an important one with the implementation in January of Cayman’s
Anti-Corruption Law (2008) and the formation of the Anti-Corruption Commission
earlier this year.

The law requires – among other
things – that public officials, including board members, justices of the peace
and lawmakers, declare pecuniary interests and recuse themselves from voting on
matters where those interests are involved.

For instance, a company owner or
manager who sits on the Work Permit Board and approves a permit application for
their business would run afoul of the law, Mr. Bulgin said.

The problem becomes more acute in
Cayman, where only select members of a small population may have the knowledge
or expertise to serve on certain boards.

“But in the same breath a lot of
these people are involved in businesses that these boards are dealing with,” he
said. “So you have the issue of to what extent they can properly discharge
their function without these sort of conflicts or potential conflicts.”

However, the new law also raises
questions concerning how anyone will know if anti-corruption statutes are
violated in secretly-held meetings.

Mr. Bulgin said the Anti-Corruption
Commission would mount a public information campaign in the coming weeks that
will help to educate both public officials and the general populace about what
is expected with regard to the new law.

The second step would require at
least some of the boards to hold their meetings in open forums.

“My understanding is that a lot of
these commissions are now…expected to be held in public,” he said.

“A lot of it is going to depend on
people – honouring their obligations and taking it seriously. If they do
otherwise and it becomes public knowledge – given all of these things about
freedom of information – that they can be prosecuted.”

A recent survey done by the
Caymanian Compass found that there were roughly 115 separate boards – not counting
subcommittees – that existed in the Cayman Islands which have more than 750
people as members.

Of those boards, just four are now required to hold their meetings in
public.

Two of those open committee hearings occur in the Legislative Assembly,
with Finance Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. The other two
typically open meetings are the Liquor Licensing Board meetings of Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac/Little Cayman.

The other 111 boards and committees operating in the Cayman Islands
typically hold their hearings in closed quarters, with only members, support
staff, and – sometimes – invited guests allowed to come along.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. The Vision-2008 Open Government Committee recommended this over eleven years ago. Our report has been gathering dust all this time. It’s good to know the Attorney General managed to find his copy at last!

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