It doesn’t have anything to do with spring break. The context is not the white sands of tropical locales, but the winding corridors of government bureaucracy.
Media, information centers and watchdog groups are celebrating “Sunshine Week” in tribute to the importance of government transparency and open records. While Sunshine Week is based in the U.S., the ideas driving it are also applicable to reality here in the Cayman Islands.
For the occasion, writers and cartoonists have made some of their work available for re-publication. The ones we’ve selected not only laud the “open government” ideal but caution against hazards such as the continual erosion of transparency statutes, and how records laws are by themselves insufficient to inform the public about government’s doings.
Cayman’s open records laws have functioned well enough in their six-year existence, bringing about the revelation of noteworthy documents and newsworthy actions that otherwise may never have been known.
However, look no further than the ongoing legal dispute over Operation Tempura records to see what happens when government’s practical desires conflict with goals for transparency: Attorneys get richer, and documents stay hidden. Cayman’s government has spent more than $700,000 as a result of a complaint filed by the former senior legal adviser to the ill-fated police corruption probe — $335,000 on an evaluation of the complaint, and about $375,000 on the continuing open records battle.
The truth is if government officials want to keep something private, no open records law will compel them to release it, at least not until they’re good and ready, usually after the passing of time has mitigated the impact of disclosure.
Government transparency is a start, not a goal. Open government is a baseline indicator of good government but does not ensure it.
That’s where journalists step in and, waving documents or following a hunch, ask the right questions of the right people, even if the answers make everyone in the room uncomfortable. As Jason Leopold writes in a column that appears on the right side of this page, “[The U.S. Freedom of Information Act] is by no means a replacement for old-fashioned gumshoe reporting.”
In addition to the Sunshine Week material, we’re also pleased to share a column from Paul Greenberg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Although the names and events the column references may not be familiar to all of our readers, we believe Mr. Greenberg’s insights and observations will strike a chord with Caymanians and residents here, not just Americans.
Mr. Greenberg’s column focuses largely on the historical trend of once-significant newspaper editorials being polished by committee until, for the sake of “consensus,” they have been refined into nothingness … or at least nothing relevant.
The Compass aligns itself with Mr. Greenberg’s remarks. We consider this editorial space as sacred ground, off-limits to wishy-washy rhetoric of mollification and free from false equivalency when one position is clearly superior to another.
We aim not to please, but to inform.