Government meeting records kept out of view

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Meeting minutes from Cayman government’s various boards and commissions can be hard to come by. Few boards publish their minutes online, most require people to file Freedom of Information requests to read about what happened in a meeting of a public body and those requests can take a month or more to produce any documents. 

Six public bodies publish their minutes online, including the Central Planning Authority, the Development Control Board and the Water Authority Board. There are more than 25 other public bodies that meet regularly to conduct government business and do not publish meeting minutes. 

Cayman Islands Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers said in a recent interview, “We always want to encourage public bodies to publish their records.”  

Mr. Liebaers said the Information Commissioner’s Office has made presentations to a number of the government’s various boards and commissions and pushed the case that minutes “should be made available proactively” and not require a Freedom of Information request. He said the situation with boards can be more complicated because members are from the private sector and may not be as familiar with the Freedom of Information Law.  

“Public offices can forget that they are operating in the public interest and common good,” he said. 

Some boards, such as the National Security Council, have legal arguments to keep the content of their meetings secret. Indeed, the Freedom of Information Law has exemptions for sensitive security information. It also has exemptions to protect commercial information, personal details and covering government deliberations. 

In November, the Cayman Compass requested minutes from the past year from 27 government boards and commissions, and reviewed the seven others with minutes available online. Between December and this week, the newspaper received 12 sets of minutes.  

Two boards rejected our request outright. The Electrical Regulatory Authority said it did not have the staff to fulfill the request. The Cayman Airways board refused the request. In a letter to the Compass, Cayman Airways information manager Pamela Watler wrote, “Cayman Airways operates in a very competitive environment and its board agendas and minutes are commercially sensitive.” 

Both rejections have been appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office. 

A dozen of the boards the Compass approached for minutes fulfilled the Freedom of Information request within two months, though most had redactions and some had major parts of the minutes removed. 

The quickest to fill the FOI request were the Civil Aviation Authority board, the Port Authority board and the University College of the Cayman Islands board of governors, which all provided the meeting minutes within five weeks. The information manager for Tourism Department also sent the Hotel Licensing Board minutes, but those were heavily redacted. The newspaper received three additional sets of minutes in early January, two months after the initial request, and is still waiting on seven sets of minutes requested on Nov. 5, 2014. 

Mr. Liebaers has some suggestions for public boards to make it easier to release information, either proactively or by request. He said meeting minutes could be formatted in a way that anything involving personnel or other information exempt from public release could go at the end of each meeting, making the minutes easier to redact before making them public. 

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