When Cayman Islands Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick leaves the jurisdiction next week, all three independent government “watchdog” offices created under Cayman legislation will have no permanent leaders.
The situation with Mr. Swarbrick’s position, which is expected to be temporarily filled by Deputy Auditor General Garnet Harrison, is separate from the issues affecting the information commissioner and complaints commissioner’s offices.
According to Governor Helen Kilpatrick’s office, a standard recruitment process will be carried out for Mr. Swarbrick’s successor and the position will be advertised shortly.
For the information and complaints commissioners, the situations are different.
In a statement Tuesday, the governor’s office said: “One of the Project Future initiatives is the development of an outline business case for Cabinet’s consideration to explore the scope to develop an office and post of ombudsman to deal with areas including freedom of information appeals, maladministration complaints and police public complaints. It is anticipated that a final decision will be taken within the coming three months.
“Once the consultations of the current proposals have concluded, the future configuration of the offices can be confirmed.”
For now, Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers and Acting Complaints Commissioner Bridgette von Gerhardt are filling in at those posts. The complaints commissioner has had neither a full-time leader nor a deputy commissioner since Nicola Williams departed the islands in early 2014.
Mr. Liebaers has served as acting information commissioner since former commissioner Jennifer Dilbert retired from the civil service in December 2013. His contract, which would normally be extended for a five-year period, was extended for only two earlier this year.
If the “super ombudsman” office is formed, there may be two additional key responsibilities added to complaints commissioner and information commissioner staff.
“The current proposal which is being assessed, includes all of the aforementioned functions, with the eventual addition of data protection when such legislation is in place,” the governor’s statement read. “Addressing police complaints is a high priority which is contemplated in the current proposal. Regardless of the outcome of the current proposal, this function will [be] delivered in some form as a matter of urgency.”
The initial idea was to place data protection functions with the information commissioner and place civilian complaints against police officers under the purview of the complaints commissioner, who currently cannot investigate non-administrative police matters.
Mrs. Dilbert, the former information commissioner, has warned that the independent offices were already being “starved” of resources by government and that a plan to merge that office with other government oversight agencies under one “super ombudsman” would make things worse.
“I don’t see it being workable, I don’t see it effecting any savings,” Mrs. Dilbert said earlier this year. “We’ve seen [the] immediate effect of talking about the merger [of the information commissioner and complaints commissioner’s offices]. [Former Complaints Commissioner] Nicola Williams is gone, [Acting Information Commissioner] Jan [Liebaers] is at loose ends. You’re already undermining the office just by talking about it.”
Mr. Liebaers said in June that the Project Future recommendations about the independent offices would be put in a “frightening light” if the government suddenly decided not to support open records and other ombudsman functions.
Governor Kilpatrick’s office denied that was the intent of the proposed merger.
“These offices continue to meet their mandate to provide service to the people of the Cayman Islands,” the statement read. “Regardless of the nomenclature and administrative arrangements of the agencies, the functions served by the offices dealing with freedom of information and maladministration, are, and will continue to be duly met.”