The Office of the Ombudsman’s annual report for 2020 was made public in Parliament on 14 July 2021. During 2020, the office fielded a total of 332 enquiries from members of the public, opened 231 cases for either investigation or informal resolution and resolved 210 cases. By way of comparison, the office opened 30 more cases overall during 2020 than in 2019, despite the pandemic and government lockdown during the second quarter.
A few areas from the report are highlighted below:
Data Protection: The largest area of case increases involved Cayman’s Data Protection Act. There were 87 data breaches reported in 2020 and the number of data protection complaints doubled during 2020, compared to 2019. The Ombudsman issued her first enforcement order under the Act, which required the Registrar of Companies to immediately cease gathering and processing personal data of non-registrable persons because there was no legal basis for its blanket approach. The Ombudsman also issued a number of information orders directing both public and private sector entities to provide documents as part of data protection investigations, because the entities were not responding to requests in a timely manner.
Freedom of Information: The Ombudsman issued several important decisions regarding government records in 2020. In addition to many FOI appeals that were resolved informally, the Ombudsman issued eight (8) written decisions in 2020. The office also noted a trend since 2017 where a greater number of FOI hearing decisions are being issued by the Ombudsman. Deputy Ombudsman Jan Liebaers recently noted “since September 2017, when the Office of the Ombudsman officially opened, through to December 2020, the Ombudsman issued 26 hearing decisions”. In contrast during the almost nine years between January 2009 and August 2017, there were 54 hearing decisions issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Maladministration: While the number of maladministration complaints remained about the same from year-to-year, there was a significant increase in the number of informal resolutions of maladministration complaints during 2020 – these are complaints by the public against poor or inefficient government service. The office managed to resolve 18 complaints informally in 2020, compared to just seven (7) in 2019. In addition, the office launched four “own motion” investigations, which will be published later this year, one of which is a joint investigation under the Data Protection Act.
“We’ve found that public officials are cooperating to resolve more complaints, meaning that time-consuming investigations are needed less to address people’s problems,” said Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston. “However, we are still seeing too many complaints about government delay and failure to respond to customers.”
The Ombudsman continues to work with government entities to improve and strengthen internal complaints procedures, as well as to ensure the civil service has appropriate public policies in place to underpin lawful and fair administrative actions in day-to-day operation.
Police Complaints: Complaints concerning police conduct made by members of the public rose from 33 recorded in 2019 to 52 last year. Amid this increase, the office saw positive strides by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service in incorporating public complaints against officers’ conduct into its daily work. However, the Ombudsman has identified a continuing need for RCIPS officers to treat people with respect.
“Too many of our police-related complaints concern simple rudeness or unprofessional conduct, even in cases where the officer has done everything procedurally “by the book”, said Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston. “Police officers can still enforce our laws while acting in a professional and cordial manner and we will hold them to that standard.”
Whistleblower Protection: The number of reports in this area remained small during 2020. There were six (6) whistleblower reports during 2020, compared with just two (2) in 2019. Our investigators have reported that people seem reluctant to make a protected disclosure when they learn that the Whistleblower Protection Act does not prevent them from being fired from their jobs. The legislation instead provides a remedy only after an employer takes detrimental action against the employee. The Ombudsman’s office intends to make recommendations to the Parliamentary committee regarding this subject.
The Office of the Ombudsman deals with public sector maladministration complaints, police misconduct complaints, whistleblower complaints, data protection queries and complaints and freedom of information appeals.
Source: Office of the Ombudsman, Cayman Islands