Ruling: Port records must be public

Although some of the records have already been released, Cayman Islands Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert on Friday ordered the Port Authority to make public several more records that detail negotiations surrounding the proposed cruise berthing facility in George Town.

According to the information commissioner’s ruling, the Cayman Islands government must reveal a financial analysis done on various proposals for the construction of a cruise ship berthing facility in George Town. That financial analysis, which has also been requested by the Caymanian Compass, is believed to be a comparison between proposals submitted by two firms for the construction of such a facility.

Mrs. Dilbert’s decision also requires the government to publish meeting minutes of the Port Authority board of directors between April and June 2011, when various aspects of the China Harbour Engineering and GLF port construction plans were being discussed.

The information commissioner’s decision can be challenged in the Grand Court within 45 days of its being made. Government officials gave no indication Friday of whether they would seek to do so.

An applicant for the information under Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law sought a number of records, including the meeting minutes, the financial report, legal advice on the port proposal involving GLF, and a copy of the negotiating agreement between government and China Harbour. Two of those items; the legal advice and the memorandum of understanding with China Harbour have already been made public.

As part of the ruling, Mrs. Dilbert has made the unprecedented decision to allow disclosure of 
full board minutes – even if those minutes reveal certain deliberations of the board – which is generally prohibited under the FOI Law.

“I find that there is an overriding public interest in disclosing these sections of the minutes,” Mrs. Dilbert wrote. “I fail to see how disclosure would interfere with the board’s or the country’s productivity.”

Officials had initially refused to release the records sought as part of the FOI request, stating disclosure could prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs and the free and frank exchange of views.

Port Authority meeting minutes requested include records from the agency concerning 20 April, 19 May, 15 June, 24 June and 25 June.

The authority meetings of 24 and 25 June detail what occurred when the board members recommended to the Cayman Islands government that it reestablish negotiations with GLF/Royal Construction over building the cruise ship facility. GLF’s negotiating agreement was terminated by Premier Bush in April and the premier recently announced government had decided to settle with the Italy-based company without using government funds to pay them.

After the 24 June meeting, some of the long-serving members reported to Mr. Bush’s former chief officer Carson Ebanks – a statutory member of the board who wasn’t at the meeting – that they were uneasy with what they were told in the meeting, including that they could be sued personally if GLF/Royal were to go that route.

Mr. Bush earlier told the Caymanian Compass he called the board members into another meeting on Saturday, 25 June, and said “he’d lost confidence with some of the board members’ ability to be impartial” with matters dealing with the cruise berthing facility and he would be changing some of the members.

The end result of the 25 June meeting was that former Port Authority board member Noel March was removed and former chairman Stefan Baraud and deputy chairman Woody Foster resigned.

The Cayman Islands government is still negotiating with China Harbour Engineering on a proposal that would not only create a berthing facility in George Town harbour, but improve cruise ship facilities at Spotts dock and build a cruise ship pier in West Bay. Premier Bush said talks for a cruise facility in Cayman Brac were also under way. The negotiating agreement with China Harbour is set to expire in March.

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