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Ombudsman annual report for 2021 – Demand for services continues to rise

Government 09 Dec, 2022 Follow News

Ombudsman annual report for 2021 – Demand for services continues to rise

The Office of the Ombudsman continues to receive an increased number of inquiries and formal complaints/appeals in nearly all areas overseen by the office, as detailed in the 2021 Annual Report made public in Parliament today, 7 December 2022.

Established in September 2017, the Ombudsman’s office entered its fourth full year of operations last year as Cayman’s one-stop-shop for complaints against inefficient or poor government administration, complaints against the conduct of police officers, whistleblower complaints against both public and private sector entities, data protection complaints and reports of data breaches, as well as Freedom of Information (FOI) appeals. 

The past year has been one of transition for our office, as the end of 2021 and early 2022 saw the departure of a number of experienced and professional staff members, including former Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston in early 2022. More recently, we saw the hiring of our first Caymanian Ombudsman, local attorney Sharon Roulstone, who took over the post in April 2022.

“Despite the current short staffing situation, our office has many victories to celebrate,” Ms. Roulstone said. “We’ve adopted a modern approach to customer complaints with the creation of an informal resolution process, a flexible way of resolving complaints without the need for time-consuming formal investigations. We have resolved a backlog of more than 140 historical complaints against police conduct. We have established an efficient process for the handling of data protection complaints and reports of data breaches and we continue to successfully resolve FOI appeals.”

Ms. Roulstone noted that there is much more work to do, particularly in reforming legislation around whistleblower protection and police complaints. Some sections of the maladministration complaints and the data protection legislation will need review in the coming year as well.

“Our office has been around long enough for us to have a good understanding of what’s working and what isn’t,” Ms. Roulstone said. “We have already taken plans for reform of certain areas to lawmakers, and we will hopefully be adding to those in the near future.”

An overview of each section of the Office of the Ombudsman for the calendar year 2021 is provided below.

FOI

After seeing an initial dip early in the year, 2021 ended as our office’s busiest-ever in terms of FOI appeals. A total of 17 appeals were carried forward from 2020 and a record-breaking 31 new appeals were received. Out of all those cases (48), a total of 33 were resolved, most via our standard informal resolution process. 

Topics requested via FOI continue to cover a myriad of government entities, including statistics on prosecutions undertaken by the Department of Environment, statistics on trade and business licenses, CINICO health insurance claims and requests for the minutes of Health Practice Commission meetings.

During the year, the Ombudsman issued six binding hearing decisions for FOI appeals. Three of these appeals were dismissed, two were fully upheld and one partially upheld, meaning information was ordered to be released. The formal decisions also dealt with a wide variety of subjects ranging from the redevelopment of Smith Barcadere, the contract of a Law School employee, retail fuel test results, marriage checks by WORC, a report of the review committee on permanent residence, and fee, duty and tax waivers for large developments.

Data protection

Our work in personal privacy protection and data-related complaints continued to increase during 2021. Our office received 30 complaints and 101 data breach notifications, as well as 138 inquiries about data protection. The Ombudsman issued 5 formal enforcement orders in the course of the year, and we resolved 17 complaints and 96 data breaches. These numbers are all significantly higher than in the previous year.

In response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we published additional guidance on vaccination and the Covid-19 status of employees and patrons of fitness establishments, as well as further guidance on our methodology for monetary penalty orders.

Maladministration

The last year also saw a significant increase in maladministration complaints. Our office recorded 122 new inquiries in 2021, compared to 109 during 2020. The impact of Covid restrictions was the area which generated the most complaints, across a number of government agencies.

We received a total of 65 formal complaints, in addition to 11 that were carried forward from 2020, across all sectors of government. Of these, 53 complaints were resolved with 21 being informally resolved without the need for a formal investigation. The year ended with 23 open cases that will carry forward to 2022 and 28 complaints that were rejected for lack of jurisdiction. As in previous years, we were able to resolve most complaints informally, thanks to the cooperation of many across the public sector.

There continues to be a need for the development of, and public access to, policies and procedures for almost all government departments. This is one of our most common complaints and we continue to encourage the development and accessibility of these important tools to the public. Without these written, publicly available policies, there is a risk of inconsistency in decision-making leading to a perception of bias.

Police complaints

In relation to complaints against police conduct, our office received 60 new inquiries in 2021, a slight increase over the 52 from 2020. The number of formal complaints received decreased to 28 over the previous year’s 57 and we carried over 15 existing complaints from 2020. A total of 4 cases were closed by way of formal investigation while 11 were informally resolved. Of the remainder, 3 were rejected for lack of jurisdiction or were time-barred, and 8 were abandoned or withdrawn by the complainant. We have 16 open cases that will carry forward into 2022.

During 2021, our office received its first complaint relating to death or serious harm forwarded to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP). It was a test of the Police (Complaints by the Public) Act, which has not provided procedural guidance, nor revealed its intention for reporting incidents of death or serious harm to the ODPP. We continue to build on the relationship established with the ODPP as a result of this complaint.

In addition, our office also provided four customer service training classes to approximately 40 RCIPS officers. Our training targets the areas of weakness identified by public complaints or general community concerns and will continue in 2022.

Whistleblowing

Whistleblower protection continues to be the most underused service we provide to the public, but it remains essential to good governance in both the public and private sectors. We are continuing to work on amendments to the Whistleblower Protection Act, which we hope to present to Parliament in 2022.

The number of inquiries (4) from potential whistleblowers was relatively low during 2021. We investigated two complaints with one being resolved. There is a need for greater public awareness of this important tool which will be a focus of our office once the necessary changes are made to the enabling legislation.

Anyone with questions or concerns about open records, data privacy, public sector and police complaints or whistleblower matters may contact the Office of the Ombudsman via phone at 946-6283 or via email at info@ombudsman.ky. Our website www.ombudsman.ky also has much more information about all the areas of our responsibility in the Cayman Islands. All matters discussed are kept strictly confidential. 


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