PAs not disclosing enough on websites

| 04/02/2011

(CNS): Public authorities are still not disclosing information in the correct way, the information commissioner has revealed after the latest independent investigation. Although Jennifer Dilbert notes some improvement, in this latest report on the level of compliance by public bodies with the freedom of information law, many are under utilising their websites and not fully complying with their obligations. Dilbert said that the latest investigation demonstrated the persistent nature of some weaknesses and brought to light new issues. She found a failure to maintain proper contact details, update websites and disclosure logs as well some misunderstanding by information managers about treating requests formally under the law and their obligation to help applicants.

During the second investigation of its kind the office randomly selected ten government bodies and submitted anonymous but simple FOI requests to each one, which the information commissioner said should not have been overly burdensome. Staff then monitored the process of the requests from acknowledgement through to disclosure. In this investigation the commissioner chose to name the ten authorities and reported in detail on each FOI application and how it was handled.

The outcome was a mixed bag, with some public authorities fully complying with the law and others failing at almost every point. Dilbert commended the commissions’ secretariat, the General Registry, Land and Survey, the Sunrise Adult Training Centre and others for elements of the process but she had little praise for the Elections Office, which she said had not treated its obligations under the FOI Law with the necessary seriousness.

“In some ways this investigation contrasts favourably with the previous ICO Investigation published in September 2010, but it also demonstrates the persistent nature of some weaknesses and brings to light a number of new issues,” she said in the report. “Some IMs do not seem to understand their duty to assist the applicant and narrow down the request to determine which record (whether held by them or possibly by another PA) best answers the applicant’s question.”

Dilbert pointed out in a previous investigation that a public authority should not “hide its records and information behind mere semantics” but should communicate with the applicant and determine what they are looking for.

One issue that Dilbert said all of the authorities failed on is proper disclosure and publication information. Even the bodies which she commended for their efficiency when it came to handling the FOI requests made by her office had fallen down when it came to their websites and disclosure logs.

“Many PAs are insufficiently making use of the opportunities offered by the web to publicize FOI and increase its efficiency. While at least some information about FOI is available on the vast majority of PA websites, only a few authorities make full use of the internet to inform the public about the rules of FOI, applicants’ rights under the Law, the types of information proactively available, and previous requests and their outcomes. In particular, publication schemes and disclosure logs remain underused tools on PA websites,” she said.

Only Lands and Survey in this particular investigation provided an online link to their complete publication scheme, although the Governor’s Office spread the information across several pages on its website.

“PAs should recognize the importance of the internet and embrace the available technology to empower the user and increase the efficiency of their services, including FOI, by raising awareness and making tools such as the publication scheme and the disclosure log easily and widely available,” Dilbert added.

In 2008, Computer Services Department set up web pages for all government departments that did not already have an online presence but the report reveals that many of them have made no attempt to update them since. She described them as “essentially pointless” as the information on the sites posted in 2008 is no longer relevant.

“Inaccurate information can in fact be harmful, since it makes FOI seem less relevant and serves only to frustrate the public who is seeking information,” the commissioner warned as she added that all public authorities need to review and update their online information.

“Overall, more information should be readily available on websites. The FOI Unit should seek to coordinate the approach of PAs towards the internet, and provide central guidance encouraging PAs to put publication schemes and disclosure logs online, and keep them up to date and user friendly.”

She also recommended a complete audit of the FOI email addresses to make sure the public have access to the right contact details.

Among other recommendations Dilbert called on information managers to take-up the training offered by the freedom of information unit. “The FOI Unit coordinates courses throughout the year which are not always fully attended. PAs need to take advantage of this valuable training and ensure that they understand the FOI processes and what is required of them under the Law,” she added.

In this independent investigation the commissioner submitted anonymous information request to the following authorities:
Cayman National Cultural Foundation
Commissions Secretariat
Elections Office
General Registry
Governor’s Office
Lands and Survey Department
Public Service Pensions Board
Sunrise Adult Training Centre
Treasury Department
University College of the Cayman Islands

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Category: FOI

Comments (5)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    On Feb 8th, our National Tourism Resource "CaymanIslands.ky" lists only 5 Festivals/Events for 2011 (two of which have come and gone):

    1. Cayman Cookout  (past)

    2. Culinary Month  (past)

    3. Cayman Open  

    4. Dashing Thru the Sand  

    5. Flowers Sea Swim

    This is our most critical resource and it is broken!  Send your event info to DOT and demand they update the resource!

  2. Thankful Again says:

    Very Good report Mrs. Dilbert. I think the PAs did well also. The headline in this oiece could have taken a positive approach.

  3. Anonymous says:

     " find  almost all governmental website useless, as they are outdated, poorly designed without understanding their purpose. Try to get information how to register a vehicle or file in Small claims court.."

    Very true…I could add a few more like immigration and education.  

  4. Anonymous says:

     I find  almost all governmental website useless, as they are outdated, poorly designed without understanding their purpose. Try to get information how to register a vehicle or file in Small claims court..

  5. Michel Lemay says:

    I am wondering if the PA’s have been properrly trained to use the system properly. Maybe the Computer Services Dept. could make it more user friendly and increase the use of the internet to be kept up to date and more user friendly and conduct some training sessions. I am assuming that many managers may have been at their post sor a long time and not kept up with the technologies. Why else?