The Cayman Islands government is hiring for four positions to staff the new Ombudsman Office, due to start operations later this year.
The office will oversee the areas of open records and maladministration complaints against government that were previously handled by the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Office of the Complaints Commissioner.
In addition, the new office will have responsibility for data protection, management of whistleblower reports and public complaints against police officers. Lawmakers approved legislation this spring combining the functions of the two former independent offices under the direction of the ombudsman. The governor is in the process of appointing the ombudsman to the new post for a seven-year contract term.
There will be two deputy ombudsmen, one of whom is expected to be current Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers – who will administer freedom of information matters as well as the territory’s data protection law when it comes into effect.
The second deputy ombudsman will be hired to fill a role that has been vacant for more than two years. That post, with an annual salary of $91,000-$115,000, will have responsibility for complaints against government, against police, and whistleblower reports [suspected wrongdoing by the government or private sector entities].
The office is also seeking to hire two investigators to review public complaints against police. Internal police complaints will still be dealt with by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Professional Standards Unit.
The independent police complaints function is a new venture for the Cayman Islands government, and it is estimated that hundreds of public complaints against the RCIPS which have been filed since 2010 will have to be reviewed by the new ombudsman, since no one has been legally allowed to hear those cases.
The issue involves the failure of the government to follow amendments to the Police Law in 2010, which called for the appointment of the territory’s first police public complaints commission.
The commission was never appointed, largely due to funding and staffing difficulties. The RCIPS could still hear internal complaints filed by its own officers, but the police Professional Standards Unit no longer had any legal power to hear public complaints once the Police Law was changed.
Similarly, various laws that were passed to allow for and promote reporting of wrongdoing in the territory’s public and private sectors have been enacted in the past decade but rarely used.
The Whistleblower Protection Law, passed in 2015, will not take effect until February 2018, but it will fall to the ombudsman’s office to ultimately review and make recommendations on these complaints.
Under the legislation, anyone working in government or the private sector can make a report or disclosure of suspected wrongdoing to the ombudsman’s office or to a practicing attorney. The legislation requires all such complaints be kept in strictest confidence.
The ombudsman’s office will essentially be given the powers of a court to subpoena witnesses while it is investigating reports of wrongdoing and monitoring compliance with the law.
If evidence of wrongdoing is found, the ombudsman can refer the matter to the person responsible for internal discipline (in administrative cases), refer to the commissioner of police (if criminal wrongdoing has occurred) or to the governor (if the wrongdoing was committed by a high-ranking government official).