An open records request seeking various information on Cayman Islands private sector retirement plans made to the National Pensions Office in October 2010 has taken two years to resolve.
A large volume of information about the private sector plans, which are regulated by the government agency, was eventually released. But not before the entity responsible for handling the request spent a year arguing with the applicant and the Cayman Islands Information Commissioner about whether the Freedom of Information Law even applied in this case.
“With a timely and correct application of the FOI Law, these documents could have been reviewed, redacted as necessary and disclosed much earlier, sparing the applicant, the [Information Commissioner’s Office], the [National Pensions Office] and the Legal Department much time and resources,” Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert wrote in a ruling released Thursday.
“The process has taken an inordinately long time,” Mrs. Dilbert wrote.
In February 2012, the government eventually reversed its initial decision in the matter and released redacted records to the individual who was seeking the information.
The blotted-out information contained what the National Pensions Office said were either personal records or commercially-sensitive information that it would hurt the private sector investment plans to release.
After receiving the records in February 2012 – 16 months after first the application was filed – the individual making the open records request then sought to have the redactions removed.
Mrs. Dilbert’s decision on that request was made on 5 October, 2012, one week shy of two years since the original request for information was made.
Aside from what amounted to misunderstandings about personal information that was or was not being requested, the main thrust of the dispute involved whether certain details of each pension plans audited financial statements should be released.
The redactions to those statements involved explanations of each plan’s securities held, liquidity strategy and percentages charged for the administration services for one of the plans.
“The disclosure of the redacted information would … make available sensitive information which is of commercial interest …” the National Pensions Office argued in attempts to prevent the release of the information. “It is more probable than not that this would negatively impact the competitive advantage of the respective pension plan and the pension fund.”
Some plan administrators, however, did not object to the disclosure of this information.
The applicant for the information argued in favour of disclosure, saying workers who participate in the pension plans must be able to access certain operational details about those plans in deciding what retirement savings fund to invest with.
With regard to the specific redactions of the financial statements, the information commissioner agreed those should be withheld.
“I do not see where disclosure of the redacted records that are subject of this hearing would further assist the public with a general understanding of the overall state of pension plans and pension regulation in Cayman,” Mrs. Dilbert said.