“[T]hose are very, very important factors, factors which affect the quality of life in this jurisdiction, factors which influence the decisions of business leaders in this country. No government thus far, in the history of this country, has ever been prepared to swing wide the doors of the Glass House.”
– Education Minister Alden McLaughlin, 2007
“There’s only so much in terms of resources that can be devoted in terms of dealing with FOI which, quite frankly and realistically from a country standpoint, is an unproductive use of time. It’s part of the transparency process, but it doesn’t achieve anything as far as the government, as delivery of services is concerned.”
– Premier Alden McLaughlin, 2015
To quote Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, “What a difference a day makes!”
Upon passage of the legislation that created the Cayman Islands’ open records regime – a system that has been lauded by international experts as one of the Caribbean’s “greatest success stories – then-Minister Alden McLaughlin lauded it as “a signal moment in the development of this country as a progressive parliamentary democracy.”
Now that he has been leader of a government forced to operate more in the sunlight than in the shadows, Mr. McLaughlin calls Freedom of Information a “burden.” (Perhaps … But how else would Atlas describe the weight of the entire world?)
Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers, one of the primary architects, champions and executors of Cayman’s FOI Law and its companion the National Archives and Public Records Law, responded to Mr. McLaughlin’s remarks most strongly: “I suppose government would like to be able to determine which request is legitimate and which isn’t. Fortunately, that is not the system the FOI Law provides for and it would not be a system worthy of any democratic country.
“There are adequate protections against unreasonable requests already in place, and any trained information manager knows about them. If this is truly the opinion of the premier towards the people’s right to open and transparent government that was voted unanimously by the LA in 2007, then that is very disappointing and it puts the recent considerations of the EY [consultant’s report] suggestions in a totally new and frightening light.”
Mr. Liebaers refers to the proposal, one of very few in the EY report that Mr. McLaughlin’s government has rushed to embrace, to merge (defang?) the public entities that function as government “watchdogs” – the offices of the Information Commissioner, Complaints Commissioner, data protection (when it comes into force) and the police complaints commission (when/if it comes into force).
We would suggest government adopt a different approach and promote, not subordinate, transparency in the public sector. Start by removing the “Acting” that leads the title of Acting Information Commissioner Liebaers, who time and again has demonstrated, through word and deed, that he is the best person for the job – in the words of Mr. McLaughlin from 2007, “to tear off the shutters of the windows of the Glass House and let the sun shine in.”