Second lawmaker opposes independent offices merger

North Side MLA Ezzard Miller is the second Cayman Islands lawmaker to publicly oppose the government’s proposed merger of two independent offices that oversee requests for public information and handle complaints about public entities. 

Mr. Miller joined East End MLA Arden McLean in denouncing the government’s plan, which the Progressives-led coalition has said would improve the efficiency of both the complaints commissioner and information commissioner’s office. 

“I oppose the fusion of the office of the complaints commissioner because I believe, personally, that is going to be a backwards step,” Mr. Miller told the Legislative Assembly Wednesday. 

Mr. Miller, who chairs the Standing Select Committee to Oversee the Office of the Complaints Commissioner, said his committee was “equally divided” over the idea to combine the information commissioner, complaints commissioner, data protection functions and a potential police complaints function under one “super ombudsman.” 

He said he wanted to make his position on the proposal known publicly in case he was required to cast a deciding vote in committee proceedings. 

Mr. Miller said he also wished to register his disappointment in the way that former Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams’s contract negotiations had been handled by the government and the governor. 

“The job she has gone to in the U.K. certainly indicates her value,” Mr. Miller said. 

Ms. Williams has been appointed as the U.K. Service Complaints Commissioner, who acts as the ombudsman for the U.K. Armed Forces. A bill moving through British Parliament aims to strengthen the role of that office. 

The Cayman Islands government’s level of support for the independent offices generally came into question during the departure of Ms. Williams and in the handling of a successor to retired Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert, who left that office in December 2013. No one has served on a permanent basis since Ms. Dilbert left. 

Mr. McLean said in June that the proposed merger of the two independent offices might be considered unconstitutional. 

“I will never, ever support [this],” Mr. McLean said.  

“If we amalgamate a number of these bodies, then we compromise that independence by having one person [as] the head of them all. It is a serious matter and I want to go on record … to say that I am not supporting the amalgamation of these offices. 

“What are we going to do, put two, three hats on one individual? And then you get some members in one authority knowing what the others [are] doing? And then the tenets of secrecy [are] eroded.” 

While both the complaints commissioner and information commissioner have public reporting functions, appeals handled under the Freedom of Information Law and any private individual’s complaint about a governmental body are kept confidential. 

Freedom of Information and the complaints commission functions are protected to a certain extent under the Cayman Islands Constitution Order, 2009, but there is no specific provision that requires both a complaints commissioner and an information commissioner. 

Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said in June that the government was putting together a business case for the merger, including how much money – if any – would be saved by such a move. 

“The idea at a very high level is to merge these offices to where they’ll be in one location, hopefully cross-training staff to where we can have a more efficient service,” Mr. Manderson said. “Certainly, we will not go down this road if we felt the independence of these offices will be compromised. On the contrary, we feel that it could be enhanced.” 

Mr. Miller
Mr. Miller