The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered OfReg to reveal the names of petrol stations on which the regulator performs quality-control tests.
The directive came in response to an appeal of a Freedom of Information decision. OfReg had denied a request by an applicant for data from fuel-quality tests that would identify specific petrol stations.
All gas stations in Cayman are periodically tested by OfReg, the Cayman Islands Utility Regulation and Competition Office, which regulates the utilities, telecommunications and petroleum sectors.
The test results are currently published on the OfReg website, but the names of the stations are not disclosed; instead, code numbers are used for each petrol station.
OfReg argued that revealing the names and locations of the tested petrol stations would prejudice the businesses’ commercial interests. The regulator also stated that releasing the names of individual fuel retailers could constitute an unreasonable disclosure of personal information.
However, Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston found that OfReg had not demonstrated harm to commercial interests of the petrol stations would be likely to occur if their locations and names were made public in the fuel-quality reports. OfReg was given 14 days to disclose the petrol station names to the applicant.
“OfReg seems to argue that the identity of the retail businesses should be withheld in order to protect the petrol stations in the event that their fuel was found deficient and customers decided to take their business elsewhere,” Hermiston wrote in her decision. “This position is inconsistent with OfReg’s role of protecting the interests of consumers.”
The personal information exemption claimed by OfReg was also denied, as the names of certain petrol station owners that operated as sole traders, sought under the FOI request, are not considered personal data. In any case, the names are already in the public domain and would not be unreasonable to disclose, the Ombudsman found.
Another issue raised by OfReg during the FOI hearing was that there is no standard for fuel quality in the Cayman Islands. The fuel-testing programme currently being conducted is done voluntarily without written agreements between OfReg and the petrol retailers as to how these tests should be carried out.
OfReg officials were concerned that disclosure of the fuel retailers’ and petrol stations’ identity would make them less cooperative with the testing programme. However, Hermiston noted that the Utility Regulation and Competition Act (2021) gives OfReg broad powers to require production of fuel-testing information if the petrol stations were to become recalcitrant.
Finally, OfReg argued that the fuel-test results could be misinterpreted and that misinterpretation – if linked to specific retail providers – could potentially result in loss of business and reputational issues for the business.
“The risk that government information is misinterpreted always exists, but it is not removed by withholding records,” wrote Hermiston. “The best way to counter misinformation about fuel test results is to educate consumers and help them to protect their health, safety and financial interests from an informed position.”