Archive for April 11th, 2011

Dilbert says no to fees or ID

| 11/04/2011 | 8 Comments

(CNS): The information commissioner has released a discussion paper defending the public’s right to make freedom of information requests anonymously or using a pseudonym and for access to remain free of charge. Jennifer Dilbert said that removing the right to anonymity would have a “chilling effect” and that it would be unfair for government to charge people for information because of their poor record keeping. Following the invitation from the Legislative Assembly’s office for public comment on the review of the current FOI law, Dilbert has also released her proposals for improving the law and is encouraging the people to join in the discussion by submitting their comments.

In the absence of any information released by the LA about the review of the law, the information commissioner released both her recommendations to improve, clarify and streamline the legislation, as well as a specific paper defending the right to anonymity and opposing the introduction of fees outside of the existing provisions.

Dilbert said on Monday that she hoped the documents would generate more public interest in the review of the law and support the LA’s subcommittee in their deliberations as the it comes in for scrutiny. The recommendations in Dilbert’s report are based on the expert understanding of the FOI Law and its daily application by the commissioner and her office. It also contains input from a number of information managers and users, gathered since the autumn of 2009.

Her position paper on anonymity and fees was written as a partial response to comments made in the media by the premier about “Mickey Mouse” applicants and whether the system was being abused by the fact that requests for access to government records could be made anonymously and without cost.

Dilbert argues strongly in favour of retaining anonymity for a number of reasons and also states that the issue of cost has more to do with the public authorities and their failure when it comes to record keeping and publication schemes than the burdens of the FOI law.

She said removing the right to anonymity would mean that information managers would be forced to verify the identity of every requester, which would not only be unworkable but would also undermine the goals of the FOI law to encourage transparency in government.

“Anonymity is an important aspect of the FOI Law in a small community like the Cayman Islands. It is not related to the potentially vexatious nature of an FOI request,” Dilbert reveals in her paper. She says removing it would undermine the reality and perception of fairness of the FOI process and have "an overall chilling effect on the willingness of the general public – particularly disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals — to use FOI to obtain the information they need,” she said. “An applicant’s name is, and should remain, irrelevant to the determination whether to disclose information or not.”

When it came to fees, Dilbert said she believed complaints that FOI was too expensive were driven by three underlying factors. She said the relative ineffectiveness of the information managers, the state of record keeping in public authorities and the relatively small amount of information proactively published by government were the real reason the law was causing problems for civil servants. She said it would be unfair to make applicants pay for government’s own inefficiencies, and suggested instead that the real causes should be fully investigated and corrected before considering fees.

Dilbert said that the overall review of the law was important to ensure that it was working effectively but she said it was already well utilised and had made a real difference to the people of the Cayman Islands. In her recommendations she outlines five main areas: improving exemptions, improving the appeals process, increasing the effectiveness of the ICO, clarifying roles and responsibilities, and improving procedural effectiveness.

“The FOI Law is already being used by a large number of people and it is important to understand the issues that might be under review,” she said, adding that there was a balance between the public’s general right to access information and the government’s legitimate need to keep some information confidential.

“An open government empowers an informed electorate, which will strengthen democracy in the Cayman Islands. This Law gives us all the right to ask questions and access more information, which will in turn make us more able to participate in national issues that concern our islands.”
The commissioner reminded people that for years it was the “marl road” that informed people but now there is a system in place that helps to ensure accurate information is getting to the people.

Although the final decisions on what changes will be made to FOI lie with government, the commissioner noted that it is the responsibility of the public to inform their elected representatives on their view as she encouraged the public to voice their opinions and suggestions for reform to the FOI Law.

Comments can be forwarded to the attention of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly or sent electronically to foi.lgl@gov.ky. Deadline for submission of comments is 8 May 2011.

Full versions of the ICO’s FOI Law Review Recommendations and their Position Paper on Anonymity and Fees, as well as other reports on the operation of the Law produced by the ICO, can be accessed below of at www.INFOCOMM.ky

Vote in the CNS poll: Should Mickey Mouse be allowed to make FOI requests?

Continue Reading

Commission asserts autonomy

| 11/04/2011 | 25 Comments

(CNS): The constitutional commissioners have stressed their independence in the wake of criticisms by the premier. Although the three member body has not yet revealed the contents of a letter sent to the governor and the country’s political leader in response to the damning statement about the commissioners in the Legislative Assembly recently, at their first public meeting last week the commission chair made it very clear that the commissioners were not subject to direction or control by anyone. Pastor Al Ebanks said they would continue their discussions and fact finding work when it came to constitutional issues. The members also urged the people not to give up on making their voices heard, despite their frustrations.

Speaking at a district public meeting in North Side last Thursday, the constitutional officials described their role as part think-tank, part advisory body and an educational unit. The commissioners said it needed input from the people to function properly but was autonomous and not subject to any agency. Ebanks said that while the members might have friends in political parties, the members were not affiliated to any political group or position. “We will not be pressured by anyone in fulfilling our mandate,” the chair told the people of North Side.

The comments come after a statement made by the premier in the Legislative Assembly last month in which he severely criticised the commissioners and accused them of stepping outside their remit. McKeeva Bush said that if they wanted power they "should go get money and get elected."

Speaking about the impact the constitution had on the man on the street, where there made be need for change and what was and was not functioning well to uphold good governance, the commissioners told the people not to give up on speaking out about the issues that concerned them and pressing for change. The commissioners said that the constitution itself protected public participation in politics and the people had to ensure they remained engaged.

Commissioner Julene Banks stressed the fundamental importance of public input in a democracy, and while the people may not always make a difference on every occasion, politicians and government still reacted to public opinion. She urged people to remain involved and not to be discouraged as the commission was one vehicle that could carry the voice of the public. She warned against apathy, even though people were frustrated when government didn’t listen. “We want people to know freedom of expression is alive and well,” she added.

Those who had turned up at the meeting, however, pointed out that government had not listened to the extensive public input over the desire for single member constituencies during the public consultation process in order to address the increase in the membership of the Legislative Assembly. Pastor Al acknowledged that and noted that it really was difficult to see how the public could have made it any clearer about what they wanted.

The district MLA, Ezzard Miller, who was present at the small meeting said the current constitution did not make a material difference to the man in the street and that he could understand people’s frustrations over getting their voices heard. He said the words “good governance and transparency” were almost as over used and as disingenuous in the Cayman Islands as the words “I love you”.

Miller pointed out that the problem in local politics was that it was notpossible to legislate for morality and integrity. "You really need politicians who believe in parliamentary democracy,” he said, adding that unless the political members of the government supported something, it wasn’t going to happen, regardless of the recommendations that may be made.

The commissioners are continuing their programme of public district meetings and will hold the next meeting on Thursday, 14 April, at the East End Civic Centre. The commissioners will meet on Thursday, 5 May, at the Bodden Town Civic Centre and on 19 May at the South Sound Civic Centre. All meetings start at 7pm and meetings are planned in June for West Bay and the Sister Islands. 

Continue Reading

Tourism over taxed says regional hotel boss

| 11/04/2011 | 0 Comments

(Jamaican Observer): Director General of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) Alec Sanguinetti, Wednesday said that the industry is having its worst period in its history due to the ongoing global financial crisis and government taxation policies. "The industry, I would say, is threatened and unfortunately because of the contracting of Government revenues because of the downturn in tourism, (and) tourism has become the bullseye for taxation," Sanguinetti told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC). He said that while some regional countries have given "some relief" to the industry "we need to do a lot more than that".

Sanguinetti said that, "We have seen an increase in taxes on room nights, we have seen an increase on air tickets, we now have one or two governments who are looking at putting taxes on service charges. We need to get some relief."

Go to article
 

 

Continue Reading

Stewardship of our inheritance

| 11/04/2011 | 37 Comments

I am absolutely appalled at the blatant disregard of the well being of the people of Cayman by ourelected officials. It seems to me that not very long ago, our government was at least making the effort to give the appearance of caring about its people, but recently, in light of the fact that our Premier seems to be abusing his position, I am left (almost) speechless by the depths he and his fellow “servants of the people” have gone and are continuing to go to profit from their positions of power.

Sadly, it appears they are taking advantage of their once loyal citizens, with three of our elected officials enjoying their pension whilst still earning a healthy government wage. We can all agree that by virtue of the law (written by those benefitting from it), this is legal but we can also agree that it is not a position that is entirely moral. We have heard them shout proudly about the decrease in the deficit whilst not telling you this has only come about because there are some bills that have yet to be paid (my bank balance also looks quite positive before I pay my bills each month). There are examples of local businesses struggling to make ends meet because our government has yet to pay for services rendered.

When will this stop? When will we manage to stand up and say “enough is enough”? What will it take for us to finally admit that we’re on the road to nowhere and we can’t afford to keep our premier in the style he’d like to be accustomed to?

What is happening here is actually no different to what happened in Trinidad and Tobago with the rise of Eric Williams some 50 years ago. There is a vast difference between Williams and our very own premier, most notably the fact that Williams was a very well educated man and a gifted speaker. However, the similarity lies in the fact that Williams made promises to the local population that he never kept; whilst he was enjoying the high life by means of his ability to abuse the status of public office that was gifted to him, many of his citizens were still left without water and electricity, disillusioned by the promises made of better times to come. As extreme as that may seem, we only need to take a cursory glance around to realise it is absolutely impossible and completely irresponsible to justify the expenditure of our government once we consider the reality of daily life of many of our citizens. We can easily find families right here on our own doorsteps – families that have very real difficulties in making ends meet.

How is it possible that with so many “haves” here in Cayman, once considered the fifth largest financial centre in the world, there are equally so many “have nots”.

Why do we have a foster home (to name just one of the many charities in need that have had their financial support from government decreased in recent years) at capacity that can’t find the $295,000 per annum to run and yet almost 20% of that amount was recently spent on a trip to Spain that doesn’t seem to have been vital to our existence during these tough economic times?

If we can’t find the impetus to do something about our leader(s) before the next election, I sincerely hope at that time it’s not too late. Change is coming and change must be made. Our leaders know this and perhaps this is the reason for the seemingly blatant plundering of our resources for their personal gratification. They must know their time is up and it would appear they’re becoming increasingly keen to benefit while they can. One would hope they are ignorant of the suffering that surrounds them, given the only other alternative is that they simply don’t care.

We’ve been asleep at our posts for too long now, so it’s hardly surprising we’ve been taken advantage of.

It’s time to wake up and plan for a brighter future.
 

Continue Reading