Merger concerns for complaints, information offices

Two Cayman Islands independent government agencies will soon be housed together and could eventually be combined under a single leadership post, the Cayman Compass has learned.

According to senior government officials, the Information Commissioner’s Office, now housed at Elizabethan Square, is scheduled to be moved next year to the Anderson Square building downtown. That location already houses the office of the complaints commissioner and auditor general, which make up the other two independent government agencies having commissioners appointed by the governor.

The complaints commissioner investigates public gripes regarding government agencies, excepting certain law enforcement functions. The information commissioner’s office evaluates and decides appeals from the public regarding open records requests to government.

The plan is to place the complaints commissioner’s staff in the same floor at Anderson Square as the information commissioner staff. The auditor general’s office, much larger than the other two, would be in the same building, but not the same wing. There is no suggestion that the auditor’s office would be combined with the other two agencies.

Asked Monday about plans to merge the two independent offices, Acting Deputy Governor Eric Bush said nothing had been finalized and characterized any discussions to that effect as preliminary.

“It was noted that some of the skill sets [between the information commissioner and complaints commissioner] are similar,” Mr. Bush said. “As far as plans and actions being taken to merge the two, that’s a stretch.”

However, both Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers and Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams acknowledged that there had been some discussions in meetings regarding the “rationalization” of the Cayman Islands civil service that involved combining the two agencies.

Ms. Williams said it was her view, following the discussions, that the information commissioner’s move to Anderson Square was a “precursor to merging us,” referring to the complaints commissioner and the information commissioner offices.

Mr. Liebaers said there is some overlap between the two staffs already with the sharing of financial management resources and that, as oversight agencies, they both have a similar relationship to government. “But we both do very different things,” he said.

“What I said to them – although I’m not American, I did an American quote – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I think Freedom of Information right now in Cayman … works very, very well and I would hate to see anything interfere with that.”

Further doubts were raised about the continuation of the two separate independent government offices recently when Ms. Williams’s contract was renewed for only one year, rather than the five-year extension term that would typically be offered.

Ms. Williams confirmed her reappointment last week and said her current contract will take her through August 2015. Her first contract with the office expired this month, and she was not given official word of the renewal until this month.

Ms. Williams declined to comment Friday regarding why her posting had been renewed for only an additional year.

In addition to the short-term contract for the complaints commissioner, another independently appointed government office, the information commissioner, has been without a permanent leader since former Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert retired in December.

Mr. Liebaers, the deputy information commissioner, has been serving as acting commissioner since the departure of Ms. Dilbert.

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