For the first time in their history, the two Cayman Islands boards that control development and planning decisions are allowing the general public to attend their meetings.
The decision was made public during a Wednesday meeting of the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee.
Planning Department Director Haroon Pandohie told committee members that the Central Planning Authority has agreed to hold its meetings open to the public. Mr. Pandohie said the authority has placed a notice on its website indicating the change.
The notice, contained in the planning authority rules indicates: “Central Planning Authority and Development Control Board meetings are open to the public and media. … Persons from the public and media may listen to and observe the meeting proceedings, but they may not speak or submit any documentation.”
Audio and video recordings at the meetings are prohibited, the notice states.
Auditors had sharply criticized the planning board in the 2015 for holding closed meetings.
Public Accounts Committee Chairman Ezzard Miller said the sudden change to open meetings was news to him: “Last year, there was an attempt to throw me out [of a meeting].”
Mr. Pandohie said the change was made earlier this year.
The board members, Mr. Pandohie said, were keen to make the public aware of the difference between who can attend the meetings and who can speak at those meetings. Anyone can attend a planning board meeting, he said, but only registered objectors can address the board on a project and those objectors have to be residents within a certain vicinity of the development.
Auditors said improvements to the out-of-date development plan along with the decision to hold open meetings would greatly improve transparency in building decisions.
Since the advent of the Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law in 2009, applications to the Central Planning Authority and its equivalent body for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, the Development Control Board, have been posted on a government website. The decisions on those applications regarding land use are generally public information as well.
However, the rationale the board uses for those rulings is often not disclosed, auditors found.
“We found several cases where departments with technical expertise … asked for amendments to applications or made objections, but these reservations did not form part of [the board’s] decision,” the audit report states. “Often, the decision would state only that the authority or board had ‘considered’ information from other agencies.”