Case asks ‘how long is too long?’
A pair of cases before the Cayman Islands Information Commissioner have partially answered the key question of how long a government financial record can be kept secret prior to its release to the public.
Less than a year, it seems, is not too long to hold a public record pending its submission to the Legislative Assembly. However, three years, according to another decision by Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert, is too long.
In any case, Mrs. Dilbert, in her most recent ruling on an open records request filed under the Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law, has again stressed that public authorities are producing these financial statements for the general populace, not the select few.
“The primary reason for the production of financial statements of a financial entity is not for presentation to the Legislative Assembly,” Mrs. Dilbert said.
In the most recent case before her, an applicant had requested unaudited financial statements from the Cayman Islands National Insurance Company. The request was initially for statements between 2009 and 2012, but was eventually whittled to the financial statements for just one year, 2011/12.
CINICO, after a lengthy delay in providing any proper response to the open records request, eventually replied that the financial statements were being prepared for tabling in the Legislative Assembly and therefore should be deferred from release until that time.
Mrs. Dilbert said the 2011/12 statements – not even a year old at the time the request was made – should be allowed some time prior to release.
“It is fair that CINICO is allowed adequate time to have its accounts prepared and audited and presented to the regulators and the Legislative Assembly before being published,” she wrote.
The records were withheld from release under information commissioner’s office decision number 30.
In a separate case, decided last year, Mrs. Dilbert came to a different decision regarding financial statements from the Public Service Pensions Board.
After more than three years and two separate appeals to the information commissioner’s office, the Public Service Pensions Board was compelled in May 2012 to release information related to its financial status.
An actuarial report dated 1 January, 2008 – more than four years old at the time of the release order – was first sought by the Caymanian Compass in early 2009. The newspaper’s open records request regarding the data in 2009 was deferred pending the records’ planned release in the Legislative Assembly.
A second request made through the Freedom of Information Law has led to another appeal before the information commissioner. This time, Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert has instructed the board to either release the records or seek judicial review of her decision by 21 June. The board eventually released the records and did not appeal.
“[The Public Service Pensions Board has] not demonstrated … that they acted in accordance with their obligations under the law,” Commissioner Dilbert wrote in her decision on the matter. “I also consulted … Legislative Assembly Standing Orders … but I can find no provision that restricts access to a record such as the one under review in this instance, prior to tabling in the Honourable House.”
Mrs. Dilbert also noted that the financial evaluation, completed in March 2009, has been finished for more than three years and that requirements to “immediately table” the report before the Legislative Assembly in the Public Service Pensions Law had not been met. “The primary purpose of the [actuarial] review is not to present a report on it to the financial secretary and the Cabinet, but to assess and evaluate the viability of the fund,” Mrs. Dilbert wrote.