“I am pleased to see that the Ombudsman has now decided to grant disclosure of an Extract of Cabinet minutes so that the public can have some level of transparency. I pledge that, as your MP, I will continue to lead for transparency and accountability in government.”
Alric Lindsay, Candidate for George Town South
(CMR) The Ombudsman's Office has found that the Cabinet Office has violated the Freedom on Information Law (FOI) by refusing to give local attorney and community activist Alric Lindsay an internal review of their refusal to release records through the FOI law.
Lindsay submitted an FOI request to obtain the minutes or extract of minutes relating to planning exemptions granted in relation to the Smith Barcadere Redevelopment Project which grew a lot of negative press for the government in early 2020.
In fact, protesters were able to successfully halt the project completely after an on-site protest picnic on February 15, 2020. Lindsay was a participant at that event also and he also expressed his concerns to CMR during an interview back in February on the matter.
Lindsay requested the documents on June 24, 2020, by writing directly to Cabinet where he sought to obtain Cabinet minutes or extracts of Cabinet minutes. On July 1 the Cabinet Office refused to grant the same stating that they believed the requested information was exempted under Section 9 (1) of the FOI Law. In a response they shared:
In their refusal email, they reminded Lindsay of his right to request an internal review of their refusal to grant access under section 33. Lindsay then followed up with a request for an internal review on July 25 which was completely ignored by the Cabinet Office.
Lindsay then appealed to the Ombudsman's Office on 16 September.
In the Ombudsman decision dated Monday, February 8 it was noted that:
“Although asked to conduct an internal review, the Cabinet Office acknowledged that it did not conduct one, and the applicant appealed directly to the Ombudsman.”
That appeal was investigated and they found that the extract “was not exempted from the general right for access, and the Cabinet Office was required to disclose it.” They also found that the Cabinet Office violated the FOI Law by not conducting an internal review when asked to do so by the applicant.
The nine-page judgment concluded with three findings:
- The Extract from the Cabinet minutes which contains information on whether the Cabinet granted any planning exemptions in relation to the Smith Barcadere Redevelopment Project is not exempt under section 19(1)(a) of the FOI Act.
- The Cabinet Office is required to disclose the Extract which shows the decision of the Cabinet in regard to the planning exemption relating to the Smith Barcadere Redevelopment Project.
- The Cabinet Office did not conduct an internal review when requested to do so. This violated the provisions of section 34 of the FOI Act.
Speaking exclusively to CMR Lindsay responded to today's decision:
“There are those in government who don't want us to know what decisions are being made, and how our money is being spent. This is especially the case for the Smith Barcadere Redevelopment Project which was confirmed to be in three phases, with the initial phase being in the region of 1.3 million dollars.
The interesting fact about this is that no “official” committee was ever created and one or more government departments acted upon instructions from the “ad-hoc” or “unofficial” committee. To make matters worse, no minutes were ever kept or disclosed by an “unofficial” committee. This is disturbing since, for some time, I have been fighting against these types of undisclosed dealings that don’t put Caymanians first.
As a part of this fight, I appealed to the Office of The Ombudsman for disclosure of the minutes in relation to the planning exemption supposedly granted for the Smith Barcadere Redevelopment Project.”
Lindsay has been speaking out on this issue before the February protests last year: