FOI boss fights for resources

| 23/06/2009

(CNS): With a lack of resources and no staff, the new information commissioner says she has been struggling against bureaucracy and brick walls since taking up the post in January. She is also concerned that some public authorities are dragging their heels over internal reviews on Freedom of Information requests that have been initially denied. This, together with the office’s resource problems, means that the public are likely to experience delays with FOI appeals, Jennifer Dilbert has said.

If an applicant is not satisfied with the decision the information manager made in response to their FOI request, they can ask for an internal review where a more senior member of the staff of the public authority will consider the request.  If the applicant is still not satisfied, then that is when they can make an appeal to the information commissioner.

“I am very concerned that the initial application process with public authorities is already taking too long, and mindful that delays in the appeal process will further prevent the public’s requests being responded to in a reasonable timeframe,” Dilbert sai.

She added that her office has been under-resourced from the outset and is struggling to cope with the number of appeals being received. There are currently 21 requests under appeal, some of which have already been delayed by the relevant government authority but may now face further delays, Dilbert explained.

The government’s Implementation Plan for the Freedom of Information Law called for a commissioner to be in place 6 months before the law came into effect.  However, Dilbert was not appointed as commissioner until 5 January.

Dilbert stated that the Cabinet Office did assist with making some arrangements when she arrived but there was no office accommodation, supplies, equipment, or staff.

“These first six months have been very stressful and very frustrating,” Dilbert said. “Specifically, I have been subject to much government bureaucracy, especially relating to staffing, and the independence of my office has not been established.”

Although coming up against what she described as “a brick wall at almost every turn”,  Dilbert said she has now put together a small team consisting of an office manger, who joined her in March, and a deputy, appointed in mid-April, and has moved into an office space in Elizabethan Square.  “Approval for two further members of staff was finally given on Friday 19 June, after a long struggle against the government’s hiring moratorium being applied to this new office,” Dilbert added.

She explained that, while the posts have been advertised and interviews are taking place this week, it will take several months for the office to be adequately resourced with trained staff.  While trying to put in place the policies and procedures necessary to conduct fair appeals, the commissioner said some of the appeals she is dealing with are quite involved and complex. 

“Seven of these appeals have been received this month alone, as cases work through the system,” Dilbert noted, explaining that a lot of the appeals are dealt with through arbitration and mediation before she has to take all the material involved and make her ruling in a written decision.

She said statistics show that a majority of the requests for records were being well handled by the information managers.  Another encouraging trend was that in several instances where requests for records has highlighted inefficiencies or lack of systems in some authorities, the relevant authorities had accepted these problems and were making efforts to correct them.

“This is one of the benefits of Freedom of Information,” Dilbert noted, but added that it would take some time for the process to yield long term improvements and asked the public to be patient. 

She also encouraged the public to continue to seek the information they require. In the future, she will be looking into ways to make the process of requesting and accessing information as easy as possible for the general public. 

“I invite the public to visit our new website where you can find our Policies and Procedures as well as links for application forms and other helpful resources. In time, my office will be providing comprehensive ongoing public awareness and training programmes to ensure that FOI is made accessible to all in these Islands.” 

Dilbert heads the independent Information Commissioner’s Office and her powers under the Freedom of Information Law are to hear, investigate and rule on appeals filed under the law, and to monitor compliance with the law. In her early months Dilbert said she has been supported by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner in British Columbia, which has provided her with an advisor for three months, and a registrar of hearings for a two week period, and Dilbert said she was very grateful to BC Commissioner David Loukidelis, who has provided support to both her and her deputy in terms of training,information and personnel.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    While the Government has the FOI office, someone may want to use it to find out what is going on at the XXXXXXX

    CNS: Could you email me here.

  2. Anonymous says:

    YEA this is typical of all Government put policies and laws in place and have no one to police them.  All CHIEFS and NO INDIANS.

    On the issue of the fishing license, this is one abused license.  THe amount of foreigners on this island abusing this license is more than they can handle.  This should be the environmental officers who should be given this duty both on land and sea.  But all you can hear is we underfunded.

    Also MRs. Dilbert should consider some of her own Caymanians that are qualified to hold these post versus bringing in Canadians from overseas to do the job.  It is any wonder she is having brick walls rise up in front of her.

    THis is just another joke that we Caymanians have to deal with and look like jackasses trying to figure it all out.


  3. Gimme fish says:

    The disciminatory fishing licence law will be unconstitutional when the new constitution comes into force.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Typically PPM – create systems and don’t staff or fund them.

    See Kurt’s idea on making foreigners need fishing permits as an example.

    Leave it to the PPM bozo crew.

    UDP will sort this out.

    • Makam says:

      In reply to Typical PPM

      Of course the UDP will sort it out. As with their policy of secrecy in the past they will simply close the office. That way once again none of the public at large will be able to obtain information.

      I will wait to see you eat your words, or bury your head in the sand as most of the UDP supporters did before 2005!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I agree she needs staff. Now that she’s gone, why not close the London Office and transfer the funds spent on renting the office there and paying the staff to this new admittedly important office. No one can say what good Cayman gets out of the London Office. It just seems to be a social venue and for years and years has produced no real return on investment to Government.

    • Anonymous says:

      I would have to agree with the other writer, they need to staff the office properly if to be successful, I would further agree to close the London Office, did not see much positives accomplished coming from there, but then again didn’t Ms. Dilbert run that Office? But of course there were more Cocktail Parties and other stressful things to attend than here, here she would actually have to work…..oh well last I have checked that’s why you get a Salary (a big one), right!!!?? Stop complaining, get to work, vacation in England is over, have a nice day!

    • Anonymous says:

      Re the suggestion that FOI Commissioner’s previous job being unnecessary. Are you saying that this lady spent all those years there and did not advise the Government that there was no purpose in it?

      • Anonymous says:

        To "Re the suggestion"

        Yes, I am. Why would she say there was no real purpose to the job? It was a great, high paying social attachment in an exciting city with great perks such as regular flights to Cayman, Brussells etc. To be fair, she probably felt there was some sort of purpose to it-"Cayman’s London presence" However, what did/does Cayman get out of it all is the question that needs to be asked going forward. Certainly not an appearance on the "white list" or any other measurable thing it seems.