The Office of the Ombudsman has ruled that the Cayman Islands Institute of Public Accountants (CIIPA) – the body that licenses the territory’s accountants – is not subject to public records requests under the Freedom of Information Law.
The ruling stems from a records request made by a former licensed accountant to CIIPA for access to information about the organization’s policies and procedures, as well as his own personal information.
The person requesting the information was an accountant who had his license withdrawn by CIIPA this year, according to the Ombudsman’s decision. The person was not satisfied with CIIPA’s stated reasons for withdrawing his license, and so he filed a request for information under the Freedom of Information Law.
In its response to his request, CIIPA stated that it is not a public authority, and therefore is not subject to the Freedom of Information Law.
The requester took his case to the Ombudsman, arguing that CIIPA is a statutory body and should be subject to records requests.
“According to the Applicant, the CIIPA’s powers, functions and duties are prescribed by statute, and the orders of the bodies created within the CIIPA are enforceable as if they were ordered by the Court,” Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston wrote in her decision. “Therefore, it follows that the CIIPA is a body established by statute. By virtue of being a statutory body, the CIIPA is a public authority as intended in point (b) of the definition in s.2 of the FOI Law.”
CIIPA disagreed, arguing that although it was created by statute, it is a private organization not subject to the Freedom of Information Law.
“Members of the public have no legitimate interest in having access to documents and deliberations of a private organization, particularly where access would disclose private information about members … and their firms or even the CIIPA personnel,” CIIPA argued during the hearing. “Such disclosure could be very damaging and in the case of a private organization cannot be justified by public interest concerns.”
Ms. Hermiston ruled in favor of CIIPA. She said that the accounting organization is a statutory authority “in the general sense of the term,” but that the Freedom of Information Law applies to public authorities in the public sector.
“CIIPA’s governing body is not appointed by Cabinet and the organization is not funded by the government,” the Ombudsman stated. “Therefore, it is not part of the public sector, the [Freedom of Information] Law does not apply to it, and applicants do not have a legal right to access their records.”