Mac’s office defies FOI law

| 13/12/2010

(CNS): The Ministry of Finance is the latest public authority to break the Freedom of information law, the Information Commissioner’s Office has found. Examining two separate applications to the premier’s ministry, the ICO found it had broken six sections of the law and breached one of the regulations in the handling of an FOI request by CNS regarding the premier’s travel costs and one by a member of the public concerning a report about the fire service. The ICO found a catalogue of failures by the ministry, not least the failure to appoint an information manager. The ministry has been given until next Monday to comply with the commissioner’s ruling in both cases.

This is the second time the ICO has made a ruling regarding the ministry’s failure to follow the process, and despite requests to meet with the chief officer and information manager to address the problems the ministry appears to behaving with FOI, the ICO has revealed that those invitations have gone unanswered.

CNS made an FOI request back in May of this year asking for a break down of the premier’s travelling costs over the previous twelve month (since he took office) for both himself and the delegates travelling with him on government business – a request that seven months later has still not been answered in full.

On Thursday evening, in a televised address to the nation the premier revealed that since taking office he has spent some $400,000 travelling.

“Government, including myself, has had to travel extensively to promote and convince the international community that these islands are open for business,” he told the people. “This has cost approximately $400,000 and involved 14 individuals, including myself, since June of 2009, or roughly $22,000 per month, but the cost is small in comparison to the benefits brought through the financial services and tourism industries to these islands.”

As a result of considerable public interest in the premier’s travels, CNS had decided to make the request in order to answer the many questions raised by readers and commenter’s on the website. Throughout the process staff in the ministry offered to release the information but stated that the work was “onerous” and “difficult” as it appeared records were not being kept of the exact details of what was being spent and staff was forced to sift through credit card bills by hand.

In its ruling the ICO pointed out that if records do not exist the public authority does not have to create them but because it had agreed to disclose information it is obliged to do so in a timely manner. The ICO’s office noted that if it is as difficult as the ministrystaff suggested to access the financial records relating to travel it would need “corrective action” by the chief officer on the maintenance of those records.

The ICO had become involved in the request in August and had made attempts to move it forward but the problems continued. Not only were records of travelling expenses not collated properly, there was no information manager in place. “Despite making numerous attempts over a prolonged period of time to do so, both the applicants and the ICO staff found it impossible to determine who the responsible information manager was at the minister,” Jan Liebaers, wrote in his ruling as Acting Information Commissioner.

Liebaers further noted that, while the lack of information manager at the Ministry of Finance, Tourism, Planning and Development for several months had contributed to the problems, it did not excuse nor fully account for the “inordinately lengthy period of non-communication” despite continued requests by CNS and what the ICO described “as extraordinary flexibility” shown by the applicant regarding simplification of the request.

In the case of the report regarding a complaint by a fire officer, the ministry failed to acknowledge the request in ten days as required by law and then failed to respond for some four months. When the applicant chased the request, the ministry refused the information as it said it related to a legal case but did not formulate the refusal under the law or treat the FOI request properly.

The ruling by the acting information commissioner comes in the wake of one made by Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert last month in connection with a previous investigation where the office found further breaches of the FOI law in connection with the failure of information managers in four government ministries to acknowledge requests, respond in time or in the correct way. 

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Category: FOI

Comments (20)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Is FOI on First Cayman Bank? Ha Ha I wonder?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Can we really expect any better of a govt. which appointed members who could not even follow the correct process to register for election.  Now you see why this Govt. does not like the FOI law.  Not even keeping proper records. Whose job is it to keep track of spending?  Hold them accountable.  It is time that every Govt. employee was held accountable. They are not spending their money.  They are spending your money and mine. Money we have to work hard for.   We are held accountable by our bosses in the private sector.  We are forced to pay high taxes on everything because of waste by Govt. Exactly what benefits has all this travelling brought.  Is there any less unemployment in Cayman because of it?  No, there is more.  Or are the benefits just for those priviledged and greedy enough to spend OUR money.  Almost half a million dollars in travel alone.  What a waste.  No one in Govt. the Police, Immigration, etc. are held accountable. This is why there is corruption.  Until we hold them all accountable for wasting our money, things will never change.

  3. Scrooge McDuck says:

    "How was your business trip Mr. Premier?"

    "Business???  Oh yeah.  It was great! Awesome. I went out into the world to tell them Cayman is open for business and is a respectable place to invest in."

    "Do you have any receipts to hand in?"

    "Receipts??"

    "For airfare, accommodation, meals, entertainment, your business expenses…. that sortof thing?"

    "Errr….not on me but I’m sure there are some. I may have misplaced some."

    "We have a request from CNS for records of expenses while you were away telling the world Cayman is ready for business and a great place to do business."

    "Tell them it’s onerous."

    "You mean too hard to find? Or missing?"

    "Yeah." Is my lunch ready yet?"

     

     

  4. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps the headline on the news item relating to the home invasion near Bodden Town should have been Armed Intruders Defy Laws on Robbery and Assault.

    That way the lack of action being taken by the government to deter criminality might have been more apparent.

    • BORN FREE says:

      No surprise here, dictators are a law upon themselves! They obey no laws but their own!

    • A.Nonimus says:

      Proper records not being kept! What happened to this new era of accountability and openness promised by the new Finance Law. Seems you moved backward not forward. Where is the auditor? It is my money, I want every cent of it accounted for.  Keep at it CNS

  5. nauticalone says:

    And yet the Speaker and some eight legislators have time to berate the Press (and seek prosecution) for reporting the news (about them meeting behind closed doors about the FOI law) ….how ironic.

     

  6. Anonymous says:

     

    To the person who posted “Stand Firm CNS”. I would like to correct your statement.
    It is not CNS who needs to stand up to ANYONE! It is WE the Caymanians that need to stand up for our rights/ country.
    I am certain that you are a God fearing, law abiding citizen but unfortunately that is and never will be enough if we are to remain a democratic society. The only way evil and corruption can prevail, is for the good to stand by and do nothing!
  7. Anonymous says:

    Not surprised in the least. Have you ever tried to telephone a certain member of Staff or even email and get totally ignored. Try getting a letter out of them in under 4 months!

  8. MER says:

    WOW!!! You know what any other business on this island would get if they did not obey the FOI Law? It’s a LAW!!! And law is suppose to be above ALL Man in a country because it is set to protect everyone. If we have an individual in power who thinks he is above the law, it is very very concerning!!

  9. Anonymous9 says:

    YOU who wishes this ‘cross-fire would cease!! YOU are a joker.

    You think this statement is okay?????

    "it appeared records were not being kept of the exact details of what was being spent "

    How on this earth is that okay??

    Our government has never been questioned about their spending habits until now and it is OUT OF CONTROL.  It is the successive governments, it is a snowball that started way back. Not just this government nor the last government.

    And it will continue because they thought no one was watching. Well, we are now! (or at least trying to!)

  10. Using FOI Effectively says:

    For FOI to be used effectively the requestor of information should understand that the subject department does not have to create any document to satisfy a request.

    Thus the requesting unit should anticipate that and ask for information that should be available. For example the department can ask for copies of all airfare invoices pertinent to a particular passenger, all hotel bills paid for a particular guest, car rentals, etc.

    Alternatively, the requestor can ask for a document that exists with the understanding they would use that to make a follow up request once they understand the further information needs.

    Accountability is atwo way street. Those that have to be accountable need to keep good records. Those that seek accountability need to know what to ask for and how to obtain it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    would love to hear something the governor about all this ‘good governance’…but he doesn’t seem to care…..

  12. Anonymous says:

    it shows what a banana republic we’re in if the leader doesn’t even bother keeping records of how much public money he spends jet-setting, then blatantly breaks the law to cover up.

    Meanwhile 80 year old citizens are being beaten and robbed in their own homes in a crime spree that the leader won’t even talk about.

    No.1 priority for this country’s resources and for every leader right now should be crime

     

  13. Anonymous says:

    STAND FIRM CNS!
    These are the actions of a Dictator and we, the Cayman people, need people like you at CNS to stand up to the Bully Dictator.
    Thank you CNS.

  14. Anonymous says:

    And are we surprised here? NOPE!

  15. Anonymous says:

    I wish this cross-fire between the Premier and the Press would cease. I see no good comming out of it.

    • Anonymous says:

      That’s easy.  Tell them his office to cooperate.

    • Lachlan MacTavish says:

      Thank goodness we have the "crossfire" as you call it. With the old guard politicians we had proper transparency because our elected leaders would tell us the truth about the countries issues. With the new career politicians who combined being an elected member with personal business in order to create personal wealth and power the lights were turned off and we were in the dark. Decades of politricks, political rough housing, threats manipulation etc. have finally ended with the press and the public finally being able to ask questions, to object, to disagree with political policies, to make suggestions without fear of retribution is here to stay. Press on CNS and the private sector. Continue to contribute to the growth and the proper governing of our country.

    • Just Commentin' says:

      Yeah, me too…

      I much prefer remainning dumb and not knowwing what is happenning in this country than have a robust press supportting a fundamental pillar of democracy. Yeah, keepping us informed of trivial stuff like how government funds are beeing spent is certainly overstepping the boundaries of what the news should report, huh?