The infection that hit the turtle farm last year, killing 1,268 green sea turtles over four months, did not come to light for almost a year and a half.
The information was finally revealed in a Freedom of Information Law request and subsequent appeal for Cayman Turtle Farm board meeting minutes. The board presentation on the infection was initially redacted, but later handed over along with a host of other information after an appeal.
The Cayman Compass requested the meeting minutes in November 2014 and received redacted minutes in late January and early February this year. The newspaper appealed the redactions to the Information Commissioner’s Office and received new versions with most of the redactions removed.
Following the disclosure, Turtle Farm Managing Director Tim Adam said, “A lot of things were redacted that should have been released.”
Cory Martinson, acting deputy director for the Information Commissioner’s Office, said, “We went through each redaction.” In the June 2014 meeting, when the discussion on the turtle deaths occurred, more than four-and-a-half pages out of seven were redacted in the first FOI version. After the appeal, most of the information was not redacted.
“A lot of information managers want to be cautious,” Mr. Martinson said. Some information managers responsible for fielding FOI requests “don’t get a lot of requests,” Mr. Martinson said, and may not be familiar with the law or remember all their training. He said he was not making excuses for information managers, but he does understand that they have to make these legal decisions with little outside advice or support.
Sensitive commercial information is exempt from FOI, but the distinction between what has to be disclosed under FOI and what does not can be a difficult decision, Mr. Martinson said.
Mr. Adam said the FOI law “paints everyone with one brush, ministries and government companies.” As a government-owned company in the competitive tourist business, Mr. Adam said, he was concerned how the law might reveal commercially sensitive information. He said there were similar concerns for other government-owned companies, including CINICO and Cayman Airways.
There are exemptions in the FOI law to protect commercially valuable information, such as negotiations with suppliers. Exemptions in the law include trade secrets and “any other information of a commercial value” that could be devalued if it were made public.
Mr. Martinson said protecting commercial information under the FOI law has to be weighed against public interest.
“A lot of things were redacted that should have been released.” Tim Adam, managing director, Turtle Farm