According to a newsletter published by the Cayman Islands Freedom of Information office, Jennifer Dilbert has informed the governor that she will not be seeking another five-year term in the information commissioner’s post when her current appointment expires at the end of December.
Mrs. Dilbert said she will leave from the public service at that time, with her effective retirement date to come in mid-2014. She is taking early retirement, prior to reaching age 60.
“I’m really pleased with the way the office has established,” Mrs. Dilbert said Tuesday. “FOI is off to a really good start and I think that will continue.” Although she did not list it as a specific reason for her early retirement, the newsletter that announced her leaving noted a number of ongoing problems, including a souring relationship between her office and a number of civil service entities.
“The [information commissioner’s office] is … finding it increasingly difficult to secure the cooperation of some public authorities and public officers, even at the highest levels, in the context of an appeal,” the newsletter read. “While an applicant is by law entitled to reasons why records are being withheld, such an explanation is sometimes not or insufficiently given, and it is not uncommon for full reasons to be delayed until a hearing has commenced. “This is not acceptable, fair or legal, and the ICO will not tolerate it.”
The long-time civil servant and attorney was the first person appointed to the office prior to Cayman’s first Freedom of Information Law taking effect on Jan. 5, 2009. Her term has been marked by numerous successes, including the establishment of what was referred to at a Caribbean FOI conference held in this March as one of the strongest open records regimes in the region.
However, the latter part of Mrs. Dilbert’s tenure has seen increasingly bitter budget battles as the Cayman Islands fought to sustain its finances during a worsening economic downturn.
“The commissioner has advised the newly formed Legislative Assembly that she is unable to continue to head a viable office without some relatively small increases in the budget for 2013/14,” the information commissioner’s recent newsletter indicated.
The office is expected to receive funds for a senior policy analyst position in October, Mrs. Dilbert said. In addition, the office has spent nearly $50,000 so far in pursuing a legal challenge against one of its rulings filed by former Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor. The legal challenge concerns the release of certain records related to the Operation Tempura police corruption investigation of 2007-2009.
“The legal and professional fees budget of the [information commissioner’s office] has been completely stripped away during budget cuts and the commissioner has always stated that, should it become necessary, additional funding would have to be provided,” the newsletter noted. “These issues, although budget related, have the effect of negatively affecting the ability of the commissioner to effectively meet her obligations under the Law, and they therefore interfere with the independence of this office.”
So far, the information commissioner’s office has seen 118 appeals of information requests of which 34 proceeded to the full-blown hearing stage. Mrs. Dilbert said many of the appeals have occurred because of poor procedural handling of requests by the public authorities.
Mrs. Dilbert and the deputy governor met Monday to resolve some of those issues. She described it as a very productive meeting and said a report on the discussion would be released later this month.