FOI Law called ‘scandal sheet’

Calling
the law that allows the general public access to government records a “scandal
sheet”, Premier McKeeva Bush defended expenditures made on behalf of his office
during Tuesday’s session of Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee.

An
open records request and disclosures in finance committee revealed that both
Premier Bush and Governor Duncan Taylor’s housekeepers and home utilities are
paid for by taxpayers, as are security-related upgrades at both homes. In
addition, the taxpayers pay for Mr. Taylor’s house manager and chef.

“That’s
what we get in this country for asking for this FOI (Freedom of Information
Law),” Mr. Bush said. “We’ve gone too far for this little two-by-four island.”

“You
won’t hear that in the press, they’re not writing anything down,” Mr. Bush
said, adding that certain individuals in the media were simply seeking to make
him and other lawmakers look bad.

“It’s
only because it’s McKeeva Bush,” he said. “If I had come out of George Town
they wouldn’t say anything.”

According
to a release sent out by Mr. Bush’s office, the following amenities are
provided to the Premier: “An official vehicle and driver, 24-hour security at
residence; paid utilities; a housekeeper; and resident upgrades to the house
and or property as required for security purposes and
public access.”

“While
his residence is not designated an official residence, Premier Bush does have
an office in his home in which he conducts official business such as meetings
regularly. He also hosts community groups at his home, the cost of which are
personally paid by him. He does not host cocktail parties at
his house.”

The
statement was released after an FOI request for the premier’s taxpayer-funded
services was emailed to a local news operation.

The
ensuing public debate over the matter prompted members of the ruling United
Democratic Party to ask how much the public pays for the governor’s residence.

“I
think it would be fair,” George Town MLA Ellio Solomon said. “I would like to
get all the perks and benefits given to the governor.”

Deputy
Governor Donovan Ebanks, whose Portfolio is responsible for funding the
operations of Governor Taylor’s office, said the following payments were
planned in the upcoming 2010/11
budget year:

$255,916 for salaries and
allowances for staff

$16,200 for travel and related
expenditures

$24,284 for supplies

$121,005 for utilities

$182,228 for operation and
maintenance of the governor’s residence and office on Smith Road in George Town

$25,844 for insurance

$137,226 for the leasing of the
Smith Road property

$90,485 for depreciation

Mr.
Bush seemed nonplussed about those figures.

“Freedom
of Information, that’s a scandal sheet, that’s all that is,” he said.

Mr.
Bush’s comments were made while Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert was
sitting outside the Legislative Assembly chamber waiting to have her office’s
budget approved.

Later
Tuesday evening, Mrs. Dilbert appeared before Finance Committee, and the
premier’s tirade against the FOI Law continued.

Prior
to voting on the $653,068 budget allocated to the Office of the Freedom of
Information Commissioner, Mr. Bush said he planned to look at the legislation
to ensure it did not allow people to have access to personal or security-related
information.

”(We’re)
paying a lot of money, Mrs. Dilbert, for people to pound you up and giving people information
they don’t know what to do with it, but just to be slanderous, vindictive and
dirty.

“This
is not the only cost. You should all bear in mind the tremendous costs of
searching that the Civil Service has to do, coupled with the time it takes to
do so – all to make people beat you up and add to what is not there,” he said.

No
lawmakers had any questions for Mrs. Dilbert, and her office’s budget was
passed without
further comment.

One
of the requirements contained in the FOI Law is that it be reviewed after it
first year of operation, and Mrs. Dilbert has said that review is currently
under way. She made no comments before the LA’s Finance Committee.

In
an e-mail sent in response to Caymanian Compass questions on Wednesday, Mrs.
Dilbert stated: “The purpose of Finance Committee is for the members to
question any aspect of the proposed budget. 
I was asked no questions, so I had no reason to make any comments.”

The
commissioner noted that sections 16(a) and 24 of the FOI Law provide for
exemptions to disclosure of records that may endanger any person’s life or
safety. In addition, she said, the premier’s concerns about personal
information are addressed in section 23.

“In
the words of President James Madison in 1822: ‘a popular government, without
popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce
or a tragedy; or perhaps both,’” Mrs. Dilbert said.

Compass journalist Norma Connolly
contributed to this report
.

1 COMMENT

  1. There is no wonder Cayman cannot afford to pay for its government HQ. The United kingdom should be ashamed of itself. How can we make such expendures for a small 2X4 island?. Sell off the public assets, and go into debt if you have to, but dont forget my helper, maintenance and security.. Scandal sheet indeed.

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