Ombudsman’s intervention helped shine light on development concessions

A ruling by the Ombudsman helped ensure the release of information on development concessions in 2020.

Records of duty concessions granted to a developer, public high school exam results and decisions of the Labour Tribunal were only made available to the public after intervention from the Ombudsman.

Multiple freedom of information requests from the press and the public were ignored or denied in 2020, according to the annual report from the Office of the Ombudsman.

Those included requests from the Cayman Compass for consumer complaints and food inspection reports on restaurants in the islands and a public request for labour tribunal decisions in unfair dismissal claims.

Another request for information on the concessions granted to Davenport Development Ltd. over the past 20 years was also approved, following a judgment from the Ombudsman. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development had initially denied the request, claiming it would inhibit the free and frank exchange of views in Cabinet discussions over future concession agreements.

The process for how concessions are granted to developers subsequently became an issue in the general election and the new government indicated this month that it plans to introduce a transparent set of criteria.

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The Ombudsman also ordered the release of records relating to residency and employment rights certificates for same-sex couples and instructed that access to land records dating back to the cadastral survey in the 1970s be made available to an applicant.

In all, the Ombudsman issued eight formal written decisions following complaints about failure of government entities to respond adequately to freedom of information requests. Several additional disputes were resolved informally, without the need for an official hearing.

The office, which arbitrates disputes over the legal release of public information, did not always side with the applicant.

A request  for swipe access records relating to ministers and ministerial councillors entering and leaving the Government Administration Building and adjoining parking garage was rejected by the Ministry of Commerce, Planning and Infrastructure. In that case, a ministerial certificate was issued stating that releasing the records would “prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs”.

The request – presumably designed as a means to evaluate how often ministers and their councillors were showing up to work at the government’s head office – was referred to the Ombudsman.

“After weighing up the factors for and against disclosure, the Ombudsman found that the public interest in disclosing the records did not override the public interest in maintaining the exemption, since the access record was (unavoidably) partial and incomplete and would not contribute to holding the government to account,” according to the report.

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