Information commissioner responds to Compass editorial

I have just read the editorial in the Compass this morning (Dec. 11), and I’d like to respond.

I sincerely appreciate your kind words of appreciation, and I realize that the Information Commissioner’s Office is not the focus of the editorial, but I am writing this message since I’d like to ward off any potential misperception of the powers of the information commissioner suggested in the editorial.

One of the ways in which the complaints commissioner fundamentally differs from the information commissioner is in respect of the powers of our respective offices. While the complaints commissioner can make recommendations, which I understand are at times not followed, the information commissioner can and does make binding orders in all key areas. For instance, when the information commissioner reaches a decision and orders that information be disclosed, that order must be complied with within 45 days, or the courts may consider non-compliance under the rules for contempt of court. This robust legal provision is no doubt the reason that none of the orders issued by Mrs. Jennifer Dilbert and myself have been ignored in the way I understand some of Ms. Nicola Williams’s recommendations have been. We are of course all aware of the Governor’s consecutive challenges in the courts to the orders to disclose the two Tempura-related documents. However, this does not in any way negate the strong powers of the information commissioner, it is simply part of the review process allowed under the Law.

In writing that the oversight bodies merely give “the impression of oversight and good governance” I think you are underestimating the impact that, for instance, FOI has had on Cayman Islands society and government in recent years. As you have previously reported, the recent EY Report contains a minor suggestion that the Office of the Complaints Commissioner and the Information Commissioner’s Office could potentially amalgamate under a “super-ombudsman.” I am on record as being opposed to this idea, and I fear that stories that suggest that the ICO is impotent only strengthen the (in my view ill-conceived) arguments for drastic action. I cannot speak for the complaints commissioner or the auditor general, but the information commissioner has adequate powers to make sure that decisions are executed, and I am not in favor of tinkering with something that already works well.

In writing this, I do not want to create the impression that no challenges remain.  However, in terms of the information commissioner’s order powers, I do not believe any changes are required.

Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers