Journalist pushes for GIS salary details under FOI

| 10/06/2009

(CNS):  The office of the Information Commissioner said yesterday that Jennifer Dilbert is convening her first written hearing to determine whether Government Information Services (GIS) should reveal the exact salary, bonuses and expense detail of its staff to a journalist from the Compass. The request has been denied by GIS stating that it would be “unreasonable disclosure of personal information". 

The request was made by Brent Fuller on behalf of Cayman Free Press, the publishers of the Caymanian Compass. Fuller asked for the: “complete list of all current GIS employees, their titles, brief job description and annual salaries including bonuses, overtime, incentive payments, and expenses covered, if any.  I would also like a break down of specific costs related to any job-related travel taken by those employees which was paid for by government and the reasons for such travel.”

GIS denied Fuller’s request for the annual salaries but Fuller appealed the decision to the Information Commissioner, stating that he believes “all salaries of employees paid from the public purse should be a matter of public record.”

At the hearing, the Information Commissioner will determine whether the requested information is, in fact, “personal information”, whether disclosure would be an unreasonable disclosure of personal information and whether the information should be released in the public interest.

The Portfolio of the Civil Service is participating in the hearing as an Intervener. The office said a decision is expected sometime in mid-August. 

CNS contacted Fuller enquiry over the motivation for his request who forwarded a copy of an articel published in the Caymanian Compass in May which indicated that he had made requests regarding a number of salaries not least those of Members of the Legislative Assembly. However it is not clear why GIS salary details had been requested or if the challenge had been over all the declined requests, depite the apparent parametres of the hearing.

More information on the hearing can be found on the Information Commissioner’s website at

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Category: Local News

About the Author ()

Comments (22)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Sacco but not Vanzetti says:

     The Constitution of the Cayman Islands, Part I-Bill of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities, says that the Cayman Islands recognizes the freedom of individuals to have a private and family life:  “9.-(1) Government shall respect every person’s private and family life, his or her home and his or her correspondence.”

    The Explanatory Guide has this to say:  “In general, it would mean you have the right to live your own life, with reasonable personal privacy in a democratic society, taking into account the rights and freedoms of others.”  It goes on to say, “any interference with your right to private and family life by the government would need to be justified and achieve a legitimate public objective [emphasis added].”

    Do civil servants share these rights?  Of course, they do.  These folks are your friends and neighbors in your community and they are provided the same rights and protections under the constitution that you are.

    So what is being discussed is how to BALANCE the right of the individual to have privacy with the right to ask how government money is being spent.

    In the instance being discussed, that of civil service salaries, it seems both fair and reasonable to exempt their exact salaries from disclosure (providing them a measure of privacy) but to release the salary bands at which they are employed (providing information which may be in the legitimate public interest).

  2. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Jones.

    Are you suggesting that some civil servants are paid more than they should be based on the grade of their position?  Not likely, given the process for hiring civil servants.

    Besides, if a position is advertised at a certain salary range and someone files an FOI request and is told, "yes… that civil servant is paid within that salary range" – what does it matter EXACTLY how much they make?

    By the way, we’re not in the U.S. and even in the U.S. different states have different regulations.  It’s not quite so clear cut as you make it out to be.

    By the way, Mr. Jones… how much do you make a year?


  3. Mr. Jones says:

    Maybe it woudl be a good idea to find out if people who are doing specific jobs ACTUALLY fall into the salary bands. That might be the reason they are resisting to release.  

    That would be interesting question don’t you think, which maybe why the journalist is asking.


    In the US you don’t even need and FOI to find out what civil servants make, you simply find out on the government entity website and they are PUBLISHEd each year as well.

    It isn’t a state secret to find out someone’s salary.

    • Anonymous says:

      "Maybe it would be a good idea" etc etc…

      Does anyone know what salary band the Information Commissioner post falls into? Is it the same, higher or less than the one assigned to the previous post held by the Commissioner? There is some grumbling in the civil service about that but i don’t know what the reason is.

  4. Sacco but not Vanzetti says:

    "If a law is implemented saying public sector information should be freely available, then it should be clear even to a three year old that that means INFORMATION SHOULD BE FREELY AVAILABLE!"

    In fact, there are limits and conditions to what information must be released following an FOI request.  For example, any information which could, if released, adversely affect national security is exempt from FOI.  These limits and conditions are spelled out in the law.

    The benefit of this entire exercise will be to clarify what constitutes "personal information", which is exempt from FOI.  Mr. Fuller says he wants to know how much civil servants make.  He said in his article in the Compass that he was provided with the range of salaries on the pay band at which each employee is paid.  Now, it seems, he wants to know the exact salaries of each person down to the penny.  

    The idea of FOI is transparency in government.  That is a good thing.  Do you want to know how much money a government organization is paying in salaries?  You can ask.  Now Mr. Fuller has a pretty good idea how much money GIS employees are making.  The question which must now be answered in Cayman is whether knowing the exact amount of money an individual makes is their personal information or whether it is in the legitimate interest of the public to know.

    If one should choose to look at precedent for guidance on best practices, the United Kingdom routinely releases information regarding pay bands of civil servants but operates with the view that exact salaries are personal information (and there are several reasons for considering it such) and are therefore exempt from FOI.

    So resolving what constitutes "personal information" for the purposes of FOI will be the upside of all of this.

    The downside of all this is that the witless hacks at the Compass will be able to generate months of headlines without having to do any actual work, which (I suspect) was their intent all along.

  5. Heavy Cake says:

    Of course, the beauty of the FOI Act is that one doesn’t have to reveal why one wants a particular bit of info. You all can ponder and theorize all you like, Mr. Fuller can ask away!

    Power to the People!

  6. Scrooge McTaggart says:

    Cayman needs to realise that a rule, or law should be interpreted fairly, uniformly and without discrimination (or at least without discrimination by and to those limited parties that the new Micky Mouse Constitution extends to).

    If a law is implemented saying public sector information should be freely available, then it should be clear even to a three year old that that means INFORMATION SHOULD BE FREELY AVAILABLE!

    It is irrelevant what the information is required for (national security excepted).

    It is irrelevant who asks for the information.

    It is irrelevant if the request for information will upset someone in government.

    It is irrelevant if Mr. Fuller wants to ask Mr. Uzzell for a pay rise.

    If this is too difficult to understand, then the courts should interpret the law, to establish a precedent…a set of rules, to be applied equally, fairly and uniformly in the future.

    Why is this so difficult for people to understand?

  7. Anonymous says:

    All that is required should be made available in an annual Unaudited Civil List.  This particular document is not unknown in the Cayman Islands.

    • Anonymous says:

      At least it gives Jennifer Dilbert something to do after all these high paid years-without a cocktail party attached to it with Lord Somebody and Lady Someperson pretending to be Friends of Cayman at the London Office. What an expensive joke!

  8. GT Ninja says:

    I find this to be a biased request.

    A private sector media/news service wanting to know the sallery of the Government media/news service department.

    I read the paper everyday and see the GIS  government press releases in the Compass all the time… this is biting the hand that feed you … ain’t it?

    What other departments has Brent Fuller requested this information?

    RCIP? Radio Cayman? Education?

    One journalist wanting to know what government journalist make?


  9. Gordon Brown says:

    Jocko, FOI is a damned good thing and we’ll all be the better for it, I’m sure.  I’m just not certain chasing after the exact salaries of lower echelon civil servants is the first and greatest priority.  If Mr. Fuller wants to be a crusader of renown, perhaps he should chase after "dragons" and not "rabbits".

  10. Jock Smith says:

    Gordie my wee man, I am not the original poster but surely even you can see that if a Private Sector business had been allowed to run the way the Civil Service has been for years, it would have gone bankrupt and folded long ago.

    This one sounds like more of a personal gripe than a news story to me, could be wrong of course

  11. Anonymous says:

    "He is extremely capable and skilled and hard working." 

    It’s really nice to have Brent’s mom weigh in on this topic.

  12. Gordon Brown says:

    "Less competent and skilled and hard working Govt. employees are being paid more in the Public sector with the Public’s money."

    You’re certain that civil servants are less competent, less skilled and less hard-working than folks in the Private Sector?  Please share how you might prove that claim.

  13. Anonymous says:

    "The Reporter in question’s salary is published every year – every time he applies for a work permit."

    Is it?  The EXACT salary?  Or does the ad state a salary range?

    The job openings listed today at

    Pre-Press Operater/Graphic Artist:  salary range $35,000-$45,000

    Sales Representative-Telephone Directory:  salary range $25,000-$35,000

    Goss Community Press-Senior Operator:  salary range $30,000-$40,000

    Graphic Designer:  salary range $36,000-$42,000

    Photo-Journalist:  salary range $35,000-$45,000

    Sales Representative:  salary range $25,000-$30,000

  14. Anonymous says:

    The Reporter in question’s salary is published every year – every time he applies for a work permit. He is extremely capable and skilled and hard working. I would be interested to know if perhaps less competent and skilled and hard working Govt. employees are being paid more in the Public sector with the Public’s money. Perhaps GIS could outsource its services – and save us all money. Perhaps this is why this is all relevant.

    • Anonymous says:

      "The Reporter in question’s salary is published every year – every time he applies for a work permit"

      Not necessarily. Ads normally put a range rather than a single figure. The incumbent may be at any point within that range.   

  15. Anonymous says:

    The "Cayman is a small place" argument holds about as much water as a wet rag. As Mr. Barlow pointed out in one of his previous editorials,  the United States has 60,000  small towns the same size or smaller as Cayman and anyone who wants to know what the Mayor makes or a county court clerk (unelected) has the right to do so under FOI. FOI is not about embarrassing people but having someone other than the government accounting for use of public funds and I am sure if it was relevant Mr Fuller would have no problem releasing his modest journalist salary. Its no secret that civil servants in Cayman do mightly well, Fuller just wants to know how well and if anyone can remember about a year ago one man in charge of Cayman’s largest educational facility took off after spending mountains of public money on personal gifts and trips. The "salary bands" are a total joke too.If Cayman has any hope of being a true free and open society then releasing government wages should be no big deal. If FOI fails on this one the who program is in jeopardy of setting a precedence of what constitutes "an unreasonable disclosure of personal information." This means FOI requests will be submitted back with redaction after redaction or just flatly turned down. Again, you can’t just use the "small place" argument when Cayman is not a small place any more. In another 20 years it is projected to be pushing close to 100,000 people. Just look at the police situation. The police only tell the press about crimes they want to talk about then issue a bland press release with little information and that’s all we are entitled to? We don’t even know what street or neighborhood has the most crime because they keep this type of information secret. On the outside Cayman can seem modern with it’s American style strip mall sprawl but inside Cayman is one giant secret and a very vocal minority would be fine with keeping it that way. The FOI office knows what to do here, they just seem hesitant to actually back up the full promise they offered to all those living in a very young and flawed democracy.

  16. John D Rockefeller says:

     The Attorney General’s office has already issued the legal opinion "that “salary bands” –– or the range within which a government employee’s pay falls –– should be released.  But the actual salary and any bonuses or incentive pay should be withheld because they are considered personal information."

    Bent Fuller should know this, since he is the reporter who published the story:

    What is he really after?

    • Anonymous says:

      Government Salary bands sound a bit like the newspaper ads for jobs in the private sector – "Salary $40K-$50K, depending on experience".

  17. A Caymanian watching closely says:

    Looks as if Mr. Fuller is using the FOI to conduct and salary and benefits survey.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Is it really necessary to publish unelected gov’t employees salaries?  I think its ridiculous to expect that people should have to deal with everyone knowing what they earn.  Especially seeing as Cayman is a small place.  How about the journalist in question publish his salary on Cayman New Service and the Compass as a trial run.  Then he can submit a report on his experiences in lieu on the piece he would have wrote about gov’t employee salaries.