One-stop shopping for all your freedom of information requests, complaints against government entities, even police complaints.
Government is moving ahead to combine these functions under the umbrella of an ombudsman’s office.
Advocates say the merger will save in the neighborhood of a million dollars, but how will it work?
Project Manager Peter Gough, Strategic Advisor to the Deputy Governor, told Cayman 27 the role of ombudsman has been employed since the 19th century, in jurisdictions from Sweeden, to Ireland, all the way to Manitoba, Canada. He said there’s no one-size-fits-all template for every country’s ombudsman’s office.
“The model has to reflect the size and the culture of the Cayman Islands, so the model that we are doing has been designed to look at the size of this country,” said Mr. Gough.
He said value-for-money was at the heart of combining multiple offices under one roof.
“I came up with a model that actually brings together the Complaints Commissioner’s Office, the Information Commissioner’s Office, and to add to that, the [not yet established] Police Complains Commission,” said Mr. Gough.
He said while one ombudsman will oversee the whole office, the specialized sections underneath the umbrella will be preserved.
“You won’t get, for example, a person that specializes in dealing with FOI complaints, you don’t get that person dealing with FOI on Monday and dealing with a police complaints investigation on the Tuesday,” he explained. “They are specialist roles.”
Critics of the plan have suggested the merger will create the impression these offices, whose roles are to protect the public from abuses at the hands of government, aren’t truly independent.
“The office of the ombudsman is completely independent of government,” stressed Mr. Gough.
He told Cayman 27 the ombudsman’s office will report directly to a parliamentary subcommittee.
“They won’t get involved with operational decisions, they won’t get involved with complaints, but they will be the oversight body to the ombudsman’s office,” said Mr. Gough.
The user interface, how the public actually lodges a complaint or requests information, will need to be re-engineered. But Mr. Gough is optimistic the public will find a streamlined experience.
“They now have one agency, which I believe once we’ve got this up and running will be more efficient in dealing with their investigations in a timely manner,” he said.
The project team is also looking at what legal changes will be necessary to facilitate the merger, and right now it’s unsure how long that could take.
But the nuts and bolts of the merger, the procedural and HR components, should be put in place by the third quarter of this year.