Regular press conferences have been abolished, a departure from past practices, ironically initiated by the PPM. Mr. McLaughlin put an end to the gatherings, saying he wouldn’t allow the media to take “potshots” at his government.
Mr. McLaughlin put another layer of insulation between himself, his administration and the public when he hired a full-time “press secretary” to manage not just his utterances, but all “major announcements, important press releases or new public relations initiatives” from anywhere in Cayman’s public sector.
This, of course, was in addition to the government television channel, the government-owned Radio Cayman, and the more than a dozen employees at Government Information Services who unceasingly churn out pre-packaged, content nutrition-less, public relations-driven press releases.
What they are not doing is producing “news.” What they are engaging in is “news management.” An administration that hides from the public behind a sycophantic public relations apparatus inevitably invites the question, “What are they hiding?”
In fact, governments should not even have a public relations strategy; they should have a simple strategy to tell the truth.
Ironically, it was also the previous PPM government which created and approved the Freedom of Information Law in 2009, before handing over the reins of power to Mr. Bush and the UDP. Now they are entangled in that legislation as well.
A recent decision from the Information Commissioner’s Office illustrates the minimal efforts put forth by this government to comply with public information laws, and the great lengths it will go to delay or prevent the release of open records.
In July 2013, the Compass submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Law that ultimately focused on “topics, motions, decisions and records” relating to the eight meetings of Cabinet prior to Dec. 20, 2012 — the end of McKeeva Bush’s UDP government and the beginning of Juliana O’Connor-Connolly’s PNA government.
The specific matter at hand for acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers was whether it would constitute an “unreasonable diversion of resources” for the Cabinet Office to comply with the records request.
Noting that the Cabinet Office has an annual budget of $5 million and a staff of 60 people, Mr. Liebaers determined Cabinet should indeed be able to process and respond to the request. He estimated that under U.K. rules, it would require at least 24 hours of staff time for a response to be deemed as “unreasonable.”
“In the current case, I do not consider that it would take the Cabinet Office remotely this long to review the records and respond to the narrowed request,” Mr. Liebaers said, before giving Cabinet another 45 days to turn over the records and/or their reasons for not releasing them.
Consider: The Cabinet Office has taken more than one year to discharge a lawfully required duty that should take less than one day to complete.
While the UDP has drawn criticism for disregarding proper procedures, protocols and processes they felt might “hold up business,” there was rarely a moment when reporters couldn’t reach Mr. Bush or his ministers by email or phone, or when they refused to talk publicly about the public’s business.
The Progressives were elected on a platform of open government. Since taking office, however, their modus operandi has been to preach “transparency” but practice “opacity.” It’s time for them to rejoin the conversation with the Cayman Islands people.