Up until now the public has been in the dark as to the quality of the petrol they are buying in Cayman. Even though the utilities regulator, OfReg, published details of poor quality petrol providers on their website, the identity of the providers was hidden, with just a code for each provider posted on the site, which was not a great deal of use when people were trying to work out where the best place was to buy fuel. However, a recent ruling by the Ombudsman following an August 2020 Freedom of Information request and subsequent hearing, has now changed the way this information is given to the public. OfReg are now required to name the petrol stations where they have tested petrol, so consumers can be aware of the quality levels of petrol that they are buying.
OfReg have been required to disclose this information following a hearing with the Ombudsman, in which OfReg argued that revealing the actual names and locations of the tested petrol stations would prejudice the businesses’ commercial interests. OfReg also stated the release of the names of individual fuel retailers could constitute an unreasonable disclosure of personal information.
However, the Ombudsman had other ideas, and felt that OfReg was not doing a good enough job in protecting the public in withholding the names.
“OfReg seems to argue that the identity of the retail businesses should be withheld in order to protect the petrol stations in the event that their fuel was found deficient and customers decided to take their business elsewhere,” the Ombudsman, Sandy Hermiston, wrote in her decision. “This position is inconsistent with OfReg’s role of protecting the interests of consumers.”
The Ombudsman also ruled that revealing the petrol suppliers’ names would not constitute revealing personal data and the names were already in the public domain.
OfReg also argued that there was no standard for fuel quality in the Cayman Islands and that the fuel testing programme currently being conducted was done voluntarily, without written agreements between OfReg and the petrol retailers as to how these tests should be carried out. Because of that, they were concerned that the threat of revealing their identity would make them less cooperative with the testing programme. However, the Ombudsman noted the Utility Regulation and Competition Act (2021) gave OfReg broad powers to require production of fuel testing information if the petrol stations were to become noncompliant.
OfReg also worried that the public might not understand the fuel test results, which might lead to unnecessary harm to petrol providers’ reputations and business, but the Ombudsman said the best way to counter misinformation about fuel test results was to educate consumers and help them to protect their health, safety and financial interests from an informed position.
OfReg said it welcomed the decision by the Ombudsman, stating that it had followed the existing system of codification of the site names which began in 2013 when the Petroleum Inspectorate (the predecessor entity) conducted a fuel quality investigation in the Cayman Islands. As a result, the initial Freedom of Information request to name the petrol suppliers was denied.
It has now published this information on its website.
The utilities regulator said:
“OfReg reiterates its commitment to ensuring the quality of fuel delivered, whether at the gas stations or for commercial users, is maintained at the highest standard. Any issues arising from the use of fuel that has not otherwise been additised or adulterated, should be addressed with the fuel suppliers, and escalated to OfReg in cases where the outcome is not satisfactory.”