FOI reveals lost document

| 25/09/2014

(CNS): The Education Ministry appears to have lost a 2011 report requested under the freedom of information law but has refused to make public an updated 2014 document, despite the fact that at least some of the information is now in the public domain anyway. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is also of the opinion that the applicant, which is CNS, has grounds to appeal the refusal. The information requested pertains to the amalgamation of the primary schools on Cayman Brac – which has since been revealed as one of the proposals made in the Ernst & Young report on the rationalization of government. Unlike the information requested, this was released into the public domain on 9 September in the spirit of openness and transparency.

On 18 February this year CNS requested a 2011 document regarding proposals for cost savings for the provision of education on Cayman Brac; the PowerPoint presentation regarding this proposal produced in 2011; any updated report on the same subject (proposals for cost savings for the provision of education on Cayman Brac) that has been produced since 2011; and the current enrollment figures and teacher/student ratios of all government primary schools and the Lighthouse School.

The ministry released the teacher/student ratios requested but refused the other documents regarding the potential cost savings of amalgamating the Brac primary schools.

The savings of this proposal is now known to be estimated at $600,000 per year. The E&Y report (see below, page 76) also lists the potential educational benefits of the amalgamation, which includes more time per student for PE, music and art, more scope for ensemble music and team sports, and more classes of optimum size (15-25 students).

Furthermore, the reports says, although five teachers’ and one principal’s posts would be lost, the headcount savings could be put towards a speech and language therapist based on Cayman Brac.

Also noted was the potential to use the existing Spot Bay campus for the relocation of the UCCI Brac campus, thus saving rent for the local university.

Potential risks and issues listed by E&Y focused on public perception by Brac residents. The loss of professional jobs on the island “may meet with resistance”, the consultants noted. They also pointed to additional transportation time for some parents, but noted that existing school transportation services could be extended to those affected.

“Theloss of certain teachers who are highly regarded by the community may be controversial,” the report said, but outlined how this too could be mitigated by offering support and career development for younger Caymanian teachers to transfer to Grand Cayman to develop skills and experience.

Nevertheless, while the public now has what information is in the E&Y report, the ministry continues to withhold their recent report on the subject, which might offer the public a better understanding of the proposal, on the grounds that it was prepared for Cabinet. It has also, apparently, lost the original document about this proposal prepared three years ago and, in the FOI response, completely ignored its one-time existence.

The ICO said in its response to the appeal by CNS: “In regards to record keeping, the ICO notes that each Public Authority has an obligation to keep accurate records under the Public Record and Archives Law. In this case existing records appear to have been updated and no record of previous versions was kept. That is the Applicant requested 2011 documents, which appear to have existed at some point, but received records dated 2014.”

CNS appealed the refusal by the ministry on two counts and ICO Analyst Clara Smith in her report to asses the grounds for appeal said that while it was possible that the ministry had grounds for refusal, it had not supplied any documented evidence to support its claims.

Investigating whether the disputed records were, as the ministry maintained, opinions, advice or recommendations prepared for Cabinet, the analyst saidthat the records did not appear to indicate this, nor did the cabinet minutes provided by the ministry regarding this issue reference the relevant documents.

The ICO was provided with a Ministerial Affidavit, and said the minister “indicated that the responsive records were created for her view” (which the 2011 could not have been). However, the ICO noted that meetings of cabinet and subcommittees “were not discussed in the affidavit”.

The FOI watchdog analyst also looked at whether releasing the records would inhibit the free and frank exchange of views, as the ministry maintained.

in her response on behalf of the ministry, the chief officer at the time, Mary Rodrigues, had stated that “… civil servants must be able to share all possible options and provide advice and recommendations freely and frankly to be considered by senior management and by policy makers to ensure decision making processes are robust. Releasing records – particularly before a decision has been made on the proposals – would likely restrict the open dialogue that currently exists within the Ministry to share ideas and opinions which often include ‘thinking outside the box’.”

However, the ICO said that the records did not show the views of individual civil servants; that the names within the documents were those of senior ministerial officers; and that the recommendations were evidenced based practical measures.

The ministry had claimed: “It would not be in the public Interest for public servants to be restrained in the execution of their duties by the fear of the proposals they make – particularly if those proposals are not accepted by the government and contain recommendations that would be unpopular among general population – being made public under that FOI law.”

However, the ICO said that the arguments to support this argument “were not convincing given the specific circumstances of these records. In particular, that the recommendations were made by senior civil servants who should have an expectation of accountability should be addressed. Furthermore, the recommendations were not unusual given the circumstances. There was at least a possibility that the recommendations would have been well received. There is no evidence provided of the actual repercussions for these civil servants that would result in future inhibition.”

Following the ICO report, the ministry has now released the names of government officials and Cabinet members present at a focus group meeting with parents (understood to be the presidents and vice-presidents of the Brac PTAs) and Education Council members, even though CNS had amended the original FOI request to exclude the names of civil servants involved.

Related articles on CNS:

WEPS tops child/teacher ratio

Cost saving report buried

CNS: The article has been amended. an earlier version indicated that the ICO had made a decision on the matter.

Category: FOI

Comments (9)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I think anarchy would actually be better than the CIG. Let's just sack all of them and figure it out ourselves.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The Brac is vastly oversubisidised and every opportunity to reduce the burden of the Lesser Caymans should be welcomed.

  3. Anonymous says:

    This E & Y report gets more wacky the more we learn about it. Now those who cobbled it together (using curious reference written for other countries, seemingly – for example, look at the bit about encouraging people to cut down on the amount of trash generated : on Cayman? Where everything is imported? Get real!) are presenting themselves as some kind of education consultants/experts, and giving advice about curriculum content and teaching staff. All this alongside zero references to the disasterous societal impacts of the their scatter-shot suggestions to "sell everything", like Radio Cayman, for goodness sake. I'm surprised they didn't advise us to sell the LA building at the same time, and book it for "meetings". And what about the Social Services Department, and the RCIPS, and the Prison Service? All there is in regard to the social impact is vague references to "resistance" – well, thank you for that. That is very valuable information. I wonder if anyone at E&Y wondered whether or not their "recommendations" should have been reviewed by persons qualified to assess the implications (I mean other than "resistance") of their "sell everything" "suggestions", most of which are quite loopy when all said and done. Like "sell the water authority" (which currently runs at a profit) but "oh, and by the way, we cannot say that customers' bills might not increase". Well, that makes perfect sense! Hasanyone at E&Y attended a university of other place of higher learning? I really wonder.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The persons who are paid to take care of the documents have lost it?  Good thing they won't be held accountable or responsable for that or they would be sooooo fired.  Lucky you work for CIG.

  5. Shay Whitey says:

    LOST is the word that should be use to describe this government and the education minister!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Pedantic or not – If  they "reveal(s) a lost document" then surely they must have it – and we wonder about children not being able to read and write.

     

    I think they need a new "Poof Reader" at CNS.

  7. Anonymous says:

    No one wants to come right out in the open and say what the real problem with amalgamating the schools in the Brac is all about. Expressions like "negative public perceptions" abound. The same "public perceptions" that made them at one time refuse to eat eggs from black hens or drive in a black car.