Cayman’s Information Commissioner has ruled that pensions being provided to current and former Legislative Assembly members should be made public, according to a decision issued by the commissioner’s office on Wednesday.
The amount of those pensions was not requested as part of an open records query filed by a local news organisation in June 2010.
Rather, the Freedom of Information request asked for which ‘sitting and former members of the Legislative Assembly are now receiving their pensions and how long those individuals had served/are serving in the Legislative Assembly’.
The request essentially sought to determine which MLAs were receiving pensions while they continued to serve in the house, and also whether any assembly members had received pensions after serving just one four-year term.
The issue of ‘double dipping’ by both MLAs and civil servants was raised by North Side representative Ezzard Miller following changes in the country’s Parliamentary Pensions Law that allowed elected officials to retire while continuing to serve in the assembly.
The law previously required at least two four-year terms of service prior to obtaining pension eligibility, but was also changed to allow for pensions after lawmakers served just one four-year term.
“If a parliamentarian resigns…they should go home, retire,” Mr. Miller said during a Legislative Assembly debate last year. “It’s not only happening in parliament. It’s happening in other places in the civil service as well.”
An open records request filed by the Caymanian Compass last year revealed that there were 65 people who have retired from the civil service under the defined benefit pension programme – which means they are receiving a monthly pension while continuing to work in government.
Those workers are typically employed on a fixed-term contract and, therefore, also receive a salary.
There are a handful of lawmakers who currently receive pension payments while still serving in the Legislative Assembly. The open records request filed by the news agency in June sought to determine who they were.
According to Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert, the Public Service Pensions Board, which is responsible for parliamentary pensions, refused that request because the board believed it sought to reveal personal information.
Also, there were two objections filed – presumably by current or former lawmakers – who said they did not want that information to be made public.
Another person that contacted the commissioner’s office about the request said they did not object since no specific amounts would be revealed as part of the request.
In her ruling, Mrs. Dilbert rejected arguments by the Public Service Pensions Board that revealing which lawmakers were receiving pensions would be in contravention of the agency’s fiduciary duty.
Mrs. Dilbert said those who receive parliamentary pensions are only entitled to those through their service in a public position, so they would be considered ‘information which is about someone acting in an official or work capacity’ that should be provided unless there is some risk to the individual concerned.
“The individuals concerned occupy or have occupied a position in a public authority, and the information relates to their positions or functions, or the terms upon and subject to which the individuals occupy or occupied that position,” Mrs. Dilbert wrote, adding that it was her view the information sought could not be considered personal information.
According to the Freedom of Information Law, the Public Service Pensions Board now has 45 calendar days to appeal the ruling to the Cayman Islands Grand Court.
If it does not, the information must be released by 8 April.