Ministry breaks FOI law

| 23/11/2010

(CNS): The information commissioner recently made her first ruling over a government ministry that broke the Freedom of Information law after it failed to follow the proper process. The Ministry of Community Affairs, Gender and Housing made a decision not to handle an application made by CNS about the minister’s expenses and benefits as an FOI request and simply ignored it, replying in an unofficial email some 60 days after the FOI was submitted. In her ruling Jennifer Dilbert said the seriousness of this failing and the way the request was treated was “of paramount importance”. She said it represented a total disregard for the law and processes and a “trampling of an applicant’s rights” to have a request handled properly.

On 11 August CNS made an FOI request for a breakdown of expenses and benefits received by ministers over and above their official salary and benefits package and their MLA’s office allowance. With the exception of the information manager at the Health Ministry, who followed the letter of the law and responded fully well within all the deadlines, four of the ministries failed to comply with the ten day deadline to acknowledge the request and also missed the 30 day deadline to respond.

Following CNS’s attempts at chasing the various missing FOI requests, the information manager at the Community Affairs Ministry went a step further in disregarding the FOI law when she told CNS via email on 1 November that she had decided not to treat the application under that law at all, despite the fact that the request was headed as such. She said in her email, however, that she had found the minister did not receive any benefits.

Having copied the information commissioner in on the correspondence with the public authorities involved, Jennifer Dilbert began investigations into the request late October and found formally that the ministry had indeed contravened the law by answering the request outside its parameters.

The ministry told the commissioner that during FOI training managers learned that even if a request is marked as FOI it does not mean that it is to be treated as one and that is what the IM had decided to do. By ignoring the fact that this was a formal FOI request the ministry failed to correspond with CNS and then took 60 days to answer the question, and had only done so after prompting, well outside the law’stimeframe. The ministry also decided that the email was the end of the matter, despite not having provided proper reasons for not supplying the information, advising of the right to seek an Internal Review or to appeal to the Information Commissioner.

Dilbert said that several areas of the FOI law had been contravened by the public authority during the process and that the ministry had also suggested that the request was a vexatious one. However, the ICO found that CNS was merely requesting a response, as entitled under the law, and there was not sufficient evidence to support the claim of vexatiousness.

“The seriousness of this failing, and the treatment of a legitimate request in this matter, is of paramount importance,” Dilbert said in her ruling. “It represents a total disregard for the Law and processes, the objects of the Law, and a trampling of the Applicant’s rights to have a FOI request handled as required under the Law.”

Although IMs are encouraged in the regular training provided by the FOI Unit of Government, to not necessarily treat all request as FOIs, she explained this is when the entity intends to supply the information immediately in full. “However, in no way must this be interpreted to mean that a request can be handled in an arbitrary manner, with no regard for mandated timeframes and accountability as required under the FOI Law. FOI Unit training is clear in this regard,” Dilbert explained in the first ruling of its kind.

The PA failed to comply with sections 6(1), 7(3)(b), 7(4)(b) and 7(5) of the Freedom of Information Law, 2007 and regulation 21 of the Freedom of Information (General) Regulations.

“It is unconscionable, and in clear contravention of its statutory obligations … for a public authority to hide its records and information behind mere semantics,” the information commissioner said in her ruling. “A better course of action would be for a public authority to communicate at an early stage with the Applicant and assist in determining what information is sought, and which record would best document that information.”

Following this investigation the info boss also investigated the Ministry of Finance which had been sent the same FOI request regarding ministerial benefits and expenses on the same date but had simply failed to acknowledge the request at all. On the 11 November Dilbert issued the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development with an order to respond to the FOI request within ten days. The public authority finally issued its response letter to CNS via email on Friday — 102 days after the request.

With four of the five ministries now having responded, District Administration remains the only public authority which has still not supplied a final response, although the ministry has been in correspondence with CNS and has requested more time.

Check back to CNS later this week for the details of the responses from the five ministries.
 

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Category: FOI

Comments (30)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Unless we stop whining and get off our backsides and demonstrate in large numbers against the corruption going on in this country, nothing will change. Yes, its scary but we have to fight for freedom and justice before the dictator gets any worse. Look at how afraid the Govt. was when Chuckie was trying to organise a march. We collectively have the power to change things. Let’s start now. People who disregard the law belong in jail. Our leaders are setting an example of corruption but we can stop it.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah McDinejad is afraid of The Chuckster…….McDinejad even said that the police had advised himto leave the island during the proposed march because of "security reasons"…….what a load of BS.

      McDinejad was simply afraid that the large number of protestors would have at a very minimum caused his puppets to force him out of the Premiership.

      Thats how powerful we as a people can be when we stand up together. Keep the pressure on Chuckster and lets get those additional questions on the upcoming referendum !

  2. Yeah Bobo says:

    To Jennifer Dilbert: We need more people like you in the positions of authority. This is one woman who sticks to her guns and doesn’t put up with any BS. Go Jen Jen! The public is behind you!

    • Humill Itty says:

       Yes she is a hard worker, and she has an awesome team supporting her as well! 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    The PA failed to comply with sections 6(1), 7(3)(b), 7(4)(b) and 7(5) of the Freedom of Information Law, 2007 and regulation 21 of the Freedom of Information (General) Regulations.

    Is this what Big Mac has hinting at when he placed 3 senior Civil Servants on extended leave because he needed people he could work with?

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s sad that all this is happening in front of our eyes and there is not much we can do about it FOR NOW. However this type of dictatorship and intimidation happening on a nearly daily bases is very serious., I would have never though that I would see the day of near arrogance not caring attitude. and YOU other elected members how can you sit silent.Don’t you have any dignity left and whatvare you so afraid of.The Bible warns us about the leader who will come diguised in sheep.s clothing and twisting words around. I never though for once that it would be so close to us that you can almost smell it. I say shame on ALL those of you elected members being whichever side you are on for not saying ONE word just like if you are under a spell or something YOU all better wake up. What if heaven forbid WE all decided to stay home one day and say, NO more. What then ? Would we have your attention then ? Stop being YES men and Lady (hum), The young ones will NEVER forget you!!!!!!! Thanks CNSN

  5. Anonymous says:

    “It represents a total disregard for the Law and processes…"

    This is an all too typical attitude of many civil servants and their political masters. Laws are obeyed only if it is easy and convenient.

    The country needs a strong statesman or stateswoman at the helm; someone with ethics, energy, education, charisma, compassion and patience. I hope that someday, a young Caymanian who has these qualities will step forward and lead the country out of the mire.

     

  6. Anonymous says:

    Some of these Chief Officers hate with ferocious passion all the reforms of the last 10 years (Gomez even refuses to use the term Chief Officer, sticking with Permanent Secretary LOL) that have made them accountable to the public. That is why they tell their staff to be unhelpful and why they refused to cooperate in the first place and attend training sessions. But nothing happens to them for this sort of attitude and for non compliance with finance laws, FOI or anything else, so why should they get stressed about anything? Mr Gomez has even been given an extension to work beyond his 60th birthday because he is so indispensible to the Cayman Islands…………………………and Saint Julianna.

    • Anonymous says:

      Isnt age 60 when people must go, so what is Gomez’s claim to fame? What is his qualifications that he such an expert on, when the dump has been under him for decades. Look at the mess that is in.

      Me thinks it is time for new blood.

    • Anonymous says:

      He has two deputies, plus all of the other senior, middle-aged civil servants that are capable of moving up to Chief Officer – there is no justification in keeping him on.

       

      I thought there was succession planning in Govt, why is he staying on after retirement age??? Doesn’t the Deputy Premier know she can put anyone else that she wants in her Ministry’s Chief Officer’s spot – they did it after the election.

    • Anonymous says:

      It is widely known that he has’nt attended any training course in decades, so what is the real reason.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’m glad Jennifer isn’t afraid to tell it like it is!

  8. Anonymous says:

    The “cowboy” mentality within government must cease immediately. Acting outside of law and doing whatever is convenient is part of the problem of the nation’s youth. What role model is this government providing the people of the country?
    Follow the rules and that is that.
    What is the system of checks and balances within this constitution. Can the courts step in to enforse the FOI law?

  9. Anonymous says:

    "Total disregard for the law"

    Wow – there is a shocker!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Though I think it’s correct for the government to be transparent I do believe there should be a charge for each investigation. It costs time and OUR money to collect this information….should people making requests not have to pay for information they are requesting? Seems only fair…..

    • Anonymous says:

      One of the reasons that it costs the government a lot to find FOI data is that the government’s filing systems are a mess. Accounting is not the only skill that is lacking in the government.

      Yes, more training and education is required. But how do you train people not to be lazy?

    • Anonymous says:

       Yes UDPer, we understand it’s a thorn in your leaders a$$.  But may I suggest you tell him to stop spending our money like it has no end in sight and showing off by flying one our planes that could have been making money for us that day, with a $50,000 cheque, and an entourage of people that wasn’t necessary to a caribbean island that could have been done more efficiently, all because most of his guards are St. Lucian, he had to do it to show off how much power he has.

      Tell him to take some of that money and spend it on giving us the information we are entitled to and stop wasting our money stupidly.  And take the rest and take care of this country and those elderly people suffering with no assistance because all his new Caymanians have brought in their kindred and lined um up outside Social Services looking handouts.

      Tell him do that and you go sit down and hush your mouth about FOI is wasting time and money.  Try get real and stop living in the 1950’s where your leader want the rest of us to live like we all idiots out here.

      Cha, time longah dan rope deh say……..and time ticking away, we shall overcome this leadership and I for one can’t wait for it to done!

  11. toomuch2handle says:

    Kurt Tibbetts resign on time! He, loud mouth Arden, the Premier, and the rest of the government bunch were all satisfied with the refusal to slash their salaries by at least 10 to 20%! They all followed the Premier’s weakness one-by-one for the love of money – a disgrace!  Not one of them put country and being a model for young Caymanians first!

  12. Kerry Horek says:

    I completely support the FOI Law and I support the FOI Commissioner Mrs. Dilbert.

    This is one of the best things that have been put in place in our country and I personally enjoy getting loads of information always with my request.

    All my request are in my name as I want them to know it’s me making the request.

    The only regret I have with the FOI, is that we didn’t have it in place 20+ years ago.

  13. John Evans says:

    Good call but why didn’t the RCIPS refusal to respond to an FOI request for minutes of the meeting that decided not to refund my Operation Tempura expenses get treated the same way.

    I’m delighted to see CNS score such a positive result here but unfortunately it just goes to show that the Information Commissioner’s actions are not consistent.

    My complaint to the Commissioner’s office was filed back in January and has been greeted with the proverbial ‘deafening silence’.

    • Anonymous says:

      XXXX Go back to the ICO, hey, maybe even pick up the phone and call them…if your concerns are legit they will help you!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Why all the fuss, this is business as usual for the UDP.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank God for the FOI Law, its process and Mrs. Jennifer Dilbert-we have someone to answer to.

    • Anonymous says:

      The picture says it all.

      I was of the opinion that we had but one dictator which as we all know is bad enough, but it appears that we actually have two dictators who believe they are above the law. What a dangerous situation. We are most definitely in for a rough ride.

      But let me get serious:

      Who does she think she is? Does she honestly believe that she is above the law? The law is the law & no one should be above it. I hope that she is dealt with as harshly as is possible, otherwise it will continue. She is no better than the premier. Dear Cayman, I am profoundly worried, profoundly scared. This is so typical of the UDP! 

  15. Dred says:

    What is the penalty for failing? A stringently written piece of paper? Does someone get their head put through a ringer? Does someone need to seek new employment?

    • Pending says:

      Your answer Dred would be; Sweet F All as usual.

      Nobody cares, nothing gets done, same old story.

      It would amaze me if any of these people have ever had a job in the private sector because they would not last a day with the work ethic that exists in every single government agency on this island.

      But it doesn’t  suprise me, who would want to leave a job where you can get away with murder, do nothing all day every day, and don’t have to give a flying F about whether the work you are doing for your country gets done.

      I wonder why we find ourselves where we are today.

    • Anonymous says:

      The penalty is the same as its has been for ever on Cayman.  A wink and a promotion.  Why would anyone think something has changed?  Same clowns in the same circus doing the same act.  Its going to take a major catastrophe (like No more loans) to initiate any meaningful changes.  Just watch as those "in charge" and "responsible" wink this away.  Great try CNS.  But you have just shined a light on something that has always been obvious to anyone not employed by CIG.  Wish you could actually do something about it.

  16. Anonymous says:

    well done cns for following this up…..

    we now await the response from the governor and the opposition…… don’t hold your breath though!

  17. The Axe Man says:

    This one is easy. More savings for Government. There should clearly be one or two less people here to worry about continuing to employ.