The en masse resignations of four lawmakers (Bernie Bush, Eugene Ebanks, Ezzard Miller and Alva Suckoo) from the Complaints Commissioner committee are important not so much from a “practical” standpoint as from a “political” one.
Practically speaking, the committee has few items on its agenda, in light of the Progressives government’s plan to merge the functions of the complaints commissioner (vacant since Nicola Williams’s departure in early 2015), information commissioner (vacant since Jennifer Dilbert’s retirement in December 2013) and the never-created police complaints commission into a single “super ombudsman.”
The significance of the resignations is they draw public attention precisely to the Cayman Islands government’s neglect of those watchdog entities, and send a powerful message that opposition and independent lawmakers are firmly against the proposed merger. So when we describe the move by the MLAs as a “political” action, we are not speaking strictly in the sense of campaigns and elections, but in terms of attempting to bring public attention to, and possibly influence public opinion on, a policy issue of considerable substance.
Mr. Miller, who was chair of the complaints committee, said, “I do not support the merger that’s taking place. I believe the role, function and achievements of the complaints commissioner are going to be diminished. My fears are that they will not be allowed to function as independently as they have been doing.”
Mr. Miller’s criticisms and concerns over the merger echo objections raised by former Complaints Commissioner Williams and by former Information Commissioner Dilbert. The merger has also been opposed by Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers.
We’re not so sure what the potential impact of the transition to a “super ombudsman” might be. The merger proposal promises minuscule cost savings, and stems from a footnote in the EY Report, the vast majority of which the Progressives either expressly rejected or have ignored.
We lend little credence to the Progressives’ claimed commitment to greater accountability and transparency, at least via the strengthening of independent oversight bodies, first because they have allowed the two offices to drift in limbo in the two years since the EY Report was unveiled, and second because Premier Alden McLaughlin has described the Freedom of Information regime as “an unproductive use of time.”
We would add a third reason — the fact that the posts of Complaints Commissioner and Information Commissioner have been filled on an “acting” basis for years — but we cannot lay the blame for this on the Progressives’ doorstep.
Rather, it is Governor Helen Kilpatrick who is expressly, and constitutionally, charged with making those appointments. In response to a Compass query lodged more than a year ago about the persisting vacancies, the governor’s office pointed to the proposed amalgamation into the “super ombudsman” role.
We’re sorry, but interminable bureaucratic delays are a sorry excuse for “good governance.”
When it comes to watchdog entities, we would prefer that our government utilize the “West Bay model” — roving, aggressive and fearless packs … few fences, collars and leashes … and no muzzles.