Perhaps Premier Alden McLaughlin is willing to play the role of the “dummy” — but we, and we presume the Caymanian people, are not.
About a month ago, Premier Alden McLaughlin informed us all that a review of the Cayman Islands immigration system conducted by respected local attorney David Ritch constitutes legally privileged advice, and accordingly, the report will not be released to the public — (which paid for it).
“Government is considering and will act on the advice, but it should be understood that this advice is subject to legal professional privilege. As such, the advice is not intended for publication,” Premier McLaughlin said.
… At least, that’s what we heard. The Cayman Compass immediately appealed that decision to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
We received a response, not from the premier, but from Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose.
Signaling his intent to interpose himself in the Freedom of Information process, Mr. Rose (a civil servant who is essentially the equivalent of “chief officer” for the Office of the Premier) said, “There is no evidence that the premier made the initial decision [not to release the Ritch report].”
Instead, according to Mr. Rose (as quoted in Monday’s front page story), “The [premier’s office information manager] followed best practice by seeking the assistance of the information manager for the Cabinet Office … and worked very closely with her to ensure that she applied the correct exemptions and correctly drafted the response to the applicant.
“I am therefore satisfied that the initial decision was taken by the information manager in the Office of the Premier.”
Translating from bureaucratese into plain English, what Mr. Rose is saying is this: Yes, Premier McLaughlin’s lips were moving. But no, the premier wasn’t the one doing the talking.
Put another way, when Premier McLaughlin said in late July the Ritch report is not for publication, he wasn’t making the decision — he was merely announcing it.
As we stated at the outset of this editorial, we’re wise to acts of ventriloquism. And we’ll tell you that Premier McLaughlin isn’t likely to allow himself to be a passive conduit for anybody else’s utterances … particularly not for a civil servant in the role of “information manager” for his office.
In addition to being the elected leader of this country, Premier McLaughlin is himself a trained attorney. We find it hard — no, impossible — to believe that he would say something publicly — or even repeat something — about “legal professional privilege” without playing an active, even starring, role in the process.
The implication of Mr. Rose’s recent statement is government is seeking to delay its response to our request to see the report for at least several more weeks. (If the premier is the “decider” on the FOI response, then the matter would proceed directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office. If he is not, the process is re-routed, i.e. detoured, to Mr. Rose — and only after that might it go to the information commissioner.)
Even if officials genuinely believe their assertion that the Ritch report constitutes legally privileged advice, that is no disguise for what appears to be their real motivation — to bury the report from ever seeing the light of day.
You see, the concept of “legal professional privilege” is binding only on the attorney (in this case, Mr. Ritch), not the client. If Premier McLaughlin and Attorney General Sam Bulgin wished, they could buy an ad in tomorrow’s Compass and print the report in its entirety. (Heck, we’ll donate the space for free.)
Whoever is claimed to be behind the curtain, pulling the strings or mouthing the syllables, here’s the fundamental truth: Premier McLaughlin does not want you, the members of the public, to read this report — ever.