People asked to speak-up on FOI law

| 08/04/2011

(CNS): Although no discussion document has been presented, the sub-committee of the Freedom of Information Committee of the Legislative Assembly is looking for public feedback regarding the review of the Freedom of Information law. The review was mandated by the law itself to ensure that it is working properly and providing access to the information government holds. The select committee has so far only held closed door discussions, and based on comments by the premier there have been concerns in the community that the current administration may seek to remove the right to anonymous requests or introduce fees.

In the past the premier has criticized the FOI law for the cost and for the distraction he says it causes to staff who are forced to respond to requests from anonymous applicants or Mickey Mouse.

In 2010 McKeeva Bush took aim particularly at Nicky Watson, the owner of Cayman News Service, for what he said was wasting government time because of an FOI request she submitted asking for details of his travel arrangements since taking office.

Bush asked what good such a request was and criticized the law for allowing not only anonymous requests, but requests without reason. Bush said Mickey Mouse could make a request and government had to waste its time answering Mickey Mouse without knowing who and what the information was for. “Instead of doing government business, civil servants are writing back to Mickey Mouse,” he said.

The public now has a chance to offer its opinion on what changes, if any, are needed to the law to the sub-committee. The establishment of the committee itself had also sparked controversy last year when The Caymanian Compass published an article and an editorial pointing to the irony that law makers were discussing the freedom of information behind closed doors. As a result the Speaker called for an apology before suspending Brent Fuller for the remainder of the week for what she said was the journalist’s privilege to report .

Shortly afterwards, the independent member for North Side took the issue a step further and tabled a motion asking the attorney general to prosecute both the paper and the reporter, Brent Fuller. Ezzard Miller had suggested the offence committed by the paper was the use of the word “secret” to describe closed door meetings of a select committee, implying that lawmakers may do something “untoward during those deliberations”.

Legislators have still not explained why the sub-committee review of the FOI has opted for closed door hearings when it is at the members’ discretion to hold the meetings in public if they so choose. Although select committee meetings are usually ’in camera’ unless witnessed are being called, how meetings are conducted is still a matter for the chair and the committee.

Although it has not yet been revealed whether law makers are seeking to limit FOI access or improve it, the people at least now have a window of opportunity to express their thoughts about the law. The FOI legislation has been one of the most groundbreaking pieces of legislation in terms of transparency in government. It has provided the public with the first ever legal means of uncovering the formally secret workings of government.

From the cost of the premier’s travel to public servants’ perks and benefits, information previously kept well under wraps has begun to come to light and the law has seen government departments begin to be proactive about transparency and publish things such as minutes of statutory board meetings and internal reports on websites .

With the government’s financial reports so many years behind, the FOI Law is one of the few ways that the public can hold their elected representatives and the wider public service to account.

Comments can be forwarded to the attention of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly. Input can be sent electronically to foi.lgl@gov.ky or dropped off at the Legislative Assembly Building, Fort Street, George Town. Deadline for submission of comments is 8 May 2011.

 

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Category: FOI

Comments (9)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Its wasting Government time beecause it threatens their freedom to be corrupt or dishonest without question. I think it is necessary to have the FOI Law if we are to be considered a 21st centuary, civilised and democratic country. Without FOI the Government is free to do what it wants without our knowledge and question as so many leaders in third and second world nations take advantage of.

    Lets not forget, as the Premiere clearly has, that he is elected by the people for the people, not for anything else but to serve us – he is a public servant and as such should be monitored and scrutinzed by the people, otherwise this is not a free nation.

    It seems that whenever McKeeva is questioned by the public or requested to do something that does not fit his agenda, it is a waste of time – he belongs in Libya not Cayman.

  2. Anonymous says:

    FOI is a service provided by the Government so therefore, we must have persons to extract information that is scattered in various places. All government employees are paid to do a job no matter what, where, how and who it is derived from.

    Mickey Mouse has an inquisitive mind that will always be looking for information to make a case, and likes to have facts and figures produced through the proper channels.

  3. nauticalone says:

    Thanks to all who were/are involved with bringing about FOI to Cayman!
    It is the single most effective tool that the people have to help ensure “Good Governance”.

    Mac and some others don’t like FOI because they do not want to be Accountable!

  4. Walter Disney says:

    "Bush said Mickey Mouse could make a request and government had to waste its time answering Mickey Mouse without knowing who and what the information was for. “Instead of doing government business, civil servants are writing back to Mickey Mouse,”"

    Dear Mac,

    Your are our servant.  Transparency is a value in itself. 

    Rather than hiding behind civil servants, what you really mean is that you would like to know which people want to know what you are up to before you decide whether to answer. 

    Double-dipping is a good example.  You knew the answer would reflect badly on you.  You tried to stop the FOI for as long as technically possible. 

    This is a small island where those who raise questions about government are called troublemakers by politicians.  Those that question do so with real fear.  Your rather puerile rants have worsened those concerns over the last few years.  THAT is why Mickey Mouse is the people’s friend.

    Yours

    Walter Disney

  5. Anonymous says:

    I don’t understand this complaint, "government had to waste its time answering Mickey Mouse without knowing who and what the information was for."

    Why should anyone have to say what the information is being requested for? If their request complies with the law it has to be answered, end of story!

    It seems there is still a fundamental failure by certain people to grasp the concept that Freedom of Information means just that – no more hiding behind closed doors.

    In the UK the recent review of FOI is going to open up even more doors by removing the protection that a number of organisations, more notably the Association of Chief Police Officers, have enjoyed in past years.

    Simple rule of FOI – the only people who don’t like it are those trying to hide something.

    • Anonymous says:

      In Macdinejad’s world it is very important. The answer you get will depend on who you are.

  6. Anonymous says:

     We wouldn’t need FOI if they had their websites up to date.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Can our comments be anonymous?  

    • Dennie Warren Jr. says:

      Almost anything is possible, but the cost would be much too high.  So I remind you that: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."  Benjamin Franklin