Government releases audits, will continue to seek delays

When it comes to the release of Cayman Islands government internal audit reports, a recent decision by senior civil servants seems to have said both “yes” and “no.”

The Cayman Compass has received all but one of the Internal Audit Unit reports it requested via an open records query in January. The documents were received on May 19. The final outstanding report is expected to be released toward the end of June.

However, the government Portfolio of the Civil Service announced in releasing the records that it will continue to seek delays in making these reports public for up to a year after their completion, based on the circumstances of each report.

The government had earlier said it would withhold all Internal Audit Unit reports for one year after they were finished. The Compass appealed that decision to the information commissioner’s office, which resulted in the portfolio’s new position on the records’ release.

Portfolio Chief Officer Gloria McField-Nixon said the government wished to “advance the spirit as well as the strict legal requirements of the Freedom of Information Law” without compromising the ability of the Internal Audit Unit to do its job.

“To that end, we have adopted a phased publication timeline making certain annual audit reports available almost immediately while encouraging self-reporting by granting those agencies which initiate audits reasonable time to act upon the recommendations they have solicited,” Ms. McField-Nixon wrote.

The phased publication schedule indicates that annual follow-up audits of government departments will be released within one month of completion, regularly scheduled internal audits will be released within six months, and audits requested by government agencies will be released “not later than” 12 months after completion.

The reports’ release would be “subject to any applicable exemptions” already existing in the Freedom of Information Law.

The Compass is appealing the portfolio’s latest decision to the information commissioner’s office, arguing that the delays proposed by the portfolio do not seem to comply with requirements of the Cayman Islands FOI Law.

The government’s responses to the Compass’s open records request were made following at least four separate Freedom of Information requests by the Compass to the Internal Audit Unit over the past several years, all of which have been granted except for one report that was withheld due to national security concerns.

The government has never raised any issues with previous open records requests for internal audit reports, but it has redacted certain passages in some of those reports prior to release. All of the previous internal audit reports obtained by the Compass were received through legal Freedom of Information requests; none was received prior to completion and issuance of a management response, which was attached to the report.

“The prior practice of the release of internal audit information in an ad hoc manner and only upon request is flawed,” Ms. McField-Nixon said in her initial response to the Compass request. “The nature of this work relies heavily on maintaining a positive rapport with management who are encouraged not only to be frank and candid during an audit but to self-report management issues, preferably before the matters escalate to one of serious or systemic failure.

“The premature release of information before an audit is completed could have an inhibiting effect on the internal audit process,” Ms. McField-Nixon said. “However, the passage of time will have an impact on the likely level of prejudice caused in favor of the public interest disclosure.”

Successive auditors general in the Cayman Islands have emphasized the importance of the timely release of their own reports, which are separate from the work of the Internal Audit Unit.

A number of Internal Audit Unit reports revealed by the Compass over the past few years have disclosed various instances of mismanagement or maladministration in the government service. Prior to the release of the now-infamous Gasboy audit in 2010, which revealed that a number of civil service departments could not account for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fuel charges at the government petroleum depot, internal audit reports were never made public.