Shame on ‘Name and Shame’

The National Pensions Office promised a “name and shame” campaign and has begun with the release of a list of 16 business entities the government is prosecuting for breaches of the National Pensions Law.

The action follows the revelation by the Office of the Complaints Commissioner that as of this summer, 1,144 local businesses had been identified as delinquent in paying their share of employee pensions.

It is generally considered acceptable in the Cayman Islands to publish the names of people and companies after they have been charged with committing an offense, as the Pensions Office has done here.

However, Cayman’s legal system is based on the presumption – not the possibility – that a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

The drawback of a “name and shame” campaign is it enables the court of public opinion to preempt the judiciary and deliver its own verdict that, while not official, can have serious reputational consequences.

In regard to the list of alleged Pensions Law violators, there is a risk that the 16 companies (representing less than 2 percent of “delinquent” companies) become the scapegoats for a private pensions scandal that is systemic, pervasive and national in scope.

A real danger presents itself when the “naming and shaming” arises before formal charges occur. At the Compass, we take into account several factors before we identify a person who’s been arrested but not charged, such as the person’s status as a public figure, the public interest, whether the accused has had a chance to respond to the allegations, and other circumstances specific to each situation.

When media are content merely to repeat and amplify lists of accusations (by government or anyone else), it opens the door for people to seek retribution through the press against other people who aren’t in fact guilty of anything.

Take, for example, the case of former Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO Jeremy Jackson, who was put on leave last December and fired in March amid a long and messy row with the airports authority board of directors, involving potential conflicts of interest among some board members and allegations of financial misconduct. The sorry saga became public when documents were leaked to an elected member who promptly passed them on to a media outlet.

The situation soon erupted into a full-fledged controversy, sparking a firestorm of innuendo and vituperation on talk radio and from (mostly anonymous) commentators online.

In the months since Mr. Jackson’s dismissal, the board has been reappointed, and the spectacle has receded from the public stage. However, neither Mr. Jackson nor anyone else has been charged with anything, much less found guilty of any crime. That’s no consolation for the damaged reputations of the people involved.

As Irish author Jonathan Swift observed, “If a lie be believed only for an hour, it hath done its work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late.”

Modern technology allows any person, in theory, to wield the power of direct mass communication. Radio rumormongers and internet bloggers beware: In Cayman, only representatives in the Legislative Assembly can cower behind “parliamentary privilege” in order to spread hearsay and slander with impunity.

Out here in the real world, people have the right to seek legal redress for damages caused by defamation and libel, even (especially?) from media which participate knowingly and willingly in the dissemination of rumor, slander and calumny.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Well spoken. I certainly hope the Islands will adhere to the principle of presumed innocent until proven guilty. In the States as witnessed on CNN and FOX the concept is egregiously ignored. How does one not influence an impartial jury? How does one not influence the citizenry with such hearsay to the unjustified loss of reputation and income as with the name and shame businesses. For Shame!

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  2. For shame, that policy is not in place to correct and discipline these companies to the rule. I once received a letter from the pension office, it pointed to the fact that one of my employee’s contribution was in arrears, the letter warned of the consequences if it was not corrected. I was grateful to have received the reminder, and very wary of the repercussions if this was not corrected. I believe the letter warned of being prosecuted. If there are companies out there that would dismiss such a warning, then send them to court, if that is the policy. Having so many companies delinquent shows either non enforcement of policy, or failure to identify and action abuse of policy in a timely manner. Next thing you will hear is statute of limitation.

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  3. Irony at its best. The government is prosecuting for breaches in the National Pensions Law. When will THE GOVERNMENT be prosecuted for breaches in the National Pension Law?

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