Calling their response to an open records request “appalling”, Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert has summoned officials with the Cayman Islands National Insurance Company into her office for “training” and “sensitisation” purposes.
Mrs. Dilbert’s ire was sparked after the national insurer failed utterly to respond to follow up requests for information from an individual who sought a copy of meeting minutes of a CINICO board meeting held on 30 January, 2013. The insurer’s chief executive Lonny Tibbetts decided in April to release most of the meeting minutes, save for a small section on page 7 of the document.
That’s when the trouble started.
When the information applicant appealed to Mrs. Dilbert’s office seeking to reveal the remaining two paragraph section of the meeting minutes, the commissioner’s office noted that CINICO had attempted to withhold the portion of the record citing non-existent sections of the Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law, 2007.
“The [information commissioner’s office] tried to clarify the exact exemption or exemptions being claimed by CINICO and also asked repeatedly, in vain, for the reasoning behind the use of the exemption[s],” Mrs. Dilbert’s ruling on the matter stated. “CINICO refused to provide reasons prior to a formal hearing.”
The burden of proof involving public information request appeals lies with the public authorities to whom the request is made, according to the Freedom of Information Law. Section 27 of the law requires those authorities to explain their reasons for exempting the records.
Aside from not providing reasons initially to her office, Mrs. Dilbert said her staff was essentially forced to guess which sections of the open records law CINICO was referring to in the case.
CINICO had initially referred to section 21(1)(a)(b) of the law, which does not exist.
The information commissioner assumed the insurer meant section 21(1)(a) and section 21(1)(b) of the Freedom of Information Law.
However, staff then discovered that one part of section 21(1)(a), which refers to the release of trade secrets, had nothing to do with the information being withheld from the requester of the meeting minutes.
That point was never clarified.
“I note that CINICO’s approach violated both the spirit and letter of the Freedom of Information Law,” Mrs. Dilbert wrote.
“[CINICO] was uncommonly unhelpful towards the information commissioner’s office and the applicant [for the meeting minutes] alike.”
Mr. Tibbetts was contacted for a response on Friday. He has not returned calls from the Caymanian Compass.
When the full hearing proceeded before the information commissioner, the insurance provider eventually did submit three brief responses for why it was seeking to block access to the small section of the 30 January, 2013 meeting minutes. It essentially claimed that releasing the information would prejudice CINICO’s negotiating position with bidders and that it could lead bidders to collude with each other to fix prices, potentially driving up costs to ratepayers.
Mrs. Dilbert said CINICO simply did not adequately address questions about whether the redacted information from the meeting minutes had any commercial value and whether the minutes’ disclosure would diminish or destroy that commercial value.
Since the insurer could not demonstrate why any of the redacted material should be withheld, Mrs. Dilbert ordered the remaining records from the meeting minutes to be released.
She also ordered senior management of CINICO to attend the information commissioner’s office for training in dealing with Freedom of Information requests.
Mrs. Dilbert also said the handling of the open records request would refer “the egregious and wilful failure of the management of CINICO to comply with its obligations under the law” to the CINICO board.