Cops get top FOI requests

| 06/01/2009

(CNS): Few people were surprised yesterday when the government department to receive the most Freedom of Information (FOI) requests on the first day of the law’s implementation turned out to be the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, followed by the Immigration Department. However, according to Carole Excell, the FOI Coordinator for the unit, there was a steady stream of requests going to a number of different government departments, from the Department of Tourism to the Postal Service.

“It was a really interesting and exciting day for us as it was great to see the law being utilized across the board,” she said. Admitting to facing a few technical glitches with emails, she apologised for the problem on the first day the law came into effect, but said that it had all been ironed out and the public could now email most of the 87 different government entities for information.

“Some requestors received an automated response when they made requests this morning, (Monday 5 January) but Computer Services has rectified the problem,” Excell explained.

She said that a number of requests had been made to FOI itself before the law was implemented and her department submitted those today, but she is hoping that the process has been simplifed enough so that people can make their own requests directly.

“We have made it as easy as possible for people todownload forms from the FOI website and to access all the information they will need to make a request themselves,” she noted.

Excell admitted that she had also made two enquiries herself to the postal service and to the MRCU. According to other sources, Governor Stuart Jack also made a request to the Ministry of Tourism regarding Cayman’s marine replenishment zones.

Excell said that, aside from the police and Immigration Department, the Ministry of Tourism and the Postal service also received several requests throughout the day. Although not all government departments had yet reported back to the FOI unit about the number and nature of the requests on the first day, she said that the evidence so far revealed that the law was being used by a diverse cross-section of people concerning a number of different issues. She also noted that many of the information managers were not particularly surprised by the requests they received.

“Quite a few of the requests that we helped to submit were requests for specific information that people had been seeking for some time,” Excell noted, adding that she hoped to have more details about the first requests and how things were going in a few days time.

The implementation of the Freedom of information Law guarantees the public access to official records. It was passed on 31 August 2007 but the necessary preparations for the law saw its implementation delayed until January 2009. People now have the ability to seek information on any subject from any government entity to which government must, in most cases, respond within one month of the request.

While not all information can or will be released, Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert will be overseeing the divulgence of information and should requests be refused she will decide on whether a government entity was entitled to withhold information or not. According to the FOI Law, public interest must take precedent in terms of revelation.


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