EDITORIAL – Disabilities study should be public information

When government uses public funds to study an issue of public interest, the product belongs to the people.

Transparency is a philosophical cornerstone of any democratic society and the default set by Cayman’s Freedom of Information law.

So why has government refused to share the results of a nearly 10-year-old study about our islands’ disability provision?

Cetonya Cacho, the acting chief officer for the Ministry of Education, recently told a Cayman Compass reporter it was because the study forms part of the outline business case for a much-needed new Sunrise Adult Training Facility, currently under deliberation by Caucus and Cabinet.

But government has had nearly 10 years to release the report, and we see no compelling reason for the delay. As the Compass reported this week, Deloitte’s analysis occurred in 2010. Some results of that study were discussed in Finance Committee hearings four years later. Government did not announce until May 2016 that an outline business case would be formed for Sunrise’s long-promised permanent home.

In our view, there is a clear public interest in disclosing the study’s findings. At minimum, we presume it would help the public understand current shortcomings in services to people with disabilities.

As the Compass reported last October, Sunrise’s cramped and ageing facilities are interfering with its ability to deliver occupational therapies and other valuable programmes to this vulnerable population. Dozens of potential clients are on a waiting list – a number which could exceed 150 within the next decade. There are inadequate kitchen and washroom facilities, and serious security and fire safety concerns that seem difficult to address, if not impossible, in the current space.

We would expect that these and other issues would be identified and explored in the 2010 study. But rather than trusting the public with its findings, it is only through occasional public utterances, such as Premier Alden McLaughlin’s most recent Strategic Policy Statement, that we have been offered any insight at all.

In his statement, the premier announced that a new Sunrise Adult Training Centre will be built by early 2021, adding, “It will include better and more modern equipment, and significantly enhance the opportunities available for learning and personal development for the some 150 adults to which the facility will cater.”

That certainly is good news.

But such announcements are no substitute for government transparency in this instance or any other.

Without a compelling justification for privacy, the public has a right to know how government is carrying out our work.

Unless disclosure of documents might prejudice security, defence or international relations, jeopardise the effectiveness of law enforcement operations, reveal trade secrets, breach legal professional privilege or amount to unreasonable disclosure of personal information, or meet other legal thresholds for specific exemptions, they ought to be released to the public.

In fact, the Freedom of Information Law goes so far as to direct government to proactively make important public information available, rather than wait for a request.