(CMR) The Department of Tourism has been ordered to hand over full records of sponsorship agreements it entered with various overseas entities to the Cayman Compass after the Ombudsman found that information previously redacted did not contain trade secrets.
The Office of the Ombudsman made the ruling on Thursday, 14 September, following a battle to get access to the record, which reportedly lasted for 20 months.
The Compass had made an applicant under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for records related to partnership and sponsorship agreements made between the Department of Tourism (DOT) and various overseas entities for the purposes of promoting the Cayman Islands in foreign markets.
The request covered the years 2020-2022. The DOT granted the applicant some records, including various sponsorship or partnership agreements which were released with partial redactions. The DOT withheld the business cases for these agreements stating that they contained trade secrets and that their disclosure would harm the commercial value of the information and the commercial interests of the parties, therefore exempting them from release under section 21 of the FOIA.
The Ombudsman, Sharon Roulstone, found that the records which were withheld did not contain any trade secrets, nor did the disclosure of various business cases or agreements prejudice any commercial values or interests. Therefore, the records were required to be disclosed in full, with exceptions for personal contact details and signatures of the private entities who were party to the agreements.
Roulstone also commented that there had been some procedural difficulties and lengthy delays in DOT’s response to the FOI request.
“I cannot find any good reason for the slow and selective response the DOT gave to the applicant’s request. The final explanations for withholding some of the records were not given until more than a year after the request was made. This is not an acceptable way of answering requests under FOIA or of cooperating with my office,” the Ombudsman wrote in the hearing decision.
The DOT has 45 days from the date of the decision to either release the remaining records or seek a judicial review of the Ombudsman’s order to release the responsive documents. The full text of the decision may be found here: https://www.ombudsman.ky/images/pdf/decisions/FOI_Decisions/Hearing%20100%20Decision%20202200303.pdf
The Ombudsman also noted that this hearing decision marks the 100th hearing decision issued by her office, as well as by the former Information Commissioner’s Office, since Cayman’s Freedom of Information Act took effect in January 2009.
“The milestone of 100 hearing decisions since the FOIA was first enacted represents considerable time and effort by our Information Rights team. It is reassuring that Cayman’s FOI process is still strong after all these years and that the Cayman public has kept an interest in their right to know,” Ms. Roulstone said.
Any member of the public wishing to submit an appeal of a government decision on a FOIA request may phone the Ombudsman at 946-6283 or email [email protected]. For more information about Cayman’s FOI Act, please see our website at www.ombudsman.ky.