IMs push on FOI limit

| 20/09/2012

calendar-crossed-out.jpg(CNS): Although many public authorities are publishing more information proactively and releasing more information, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has identified a worrying trend in its latest statistical analysis of how the law is working. While the proportion of requests granted in full or in part has increased since the law came into force in 2009, the time authorities take to do it is getting longer. The median average time in the first year was 21 days, But instead of decreasing, information managers are now taking an average of 30 days, which is the limit that the law allows.

Deputy Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers said on Tuesday that since the implementation of the law, some 2318 requests had been logged into the government system; however, the statistics were not accurate as they were aware that some requests were never logged, so the figure was likely to be higher. While more information was now being released by information managers, the bad news was they are taking longer.

“The thirty day rule is not a target; it is the maximum time allowed,” Liebaers stated at a press briefing to announce the launch of this year’s Right to Know week activities. He said that it was an unexpected trend, especially against the backdrop of more information being released. The statistics revealed that government is well over the legal time line when the mean average rather than the median is calculated, pushing the stats up to almost 60 days. It is apparent, therefore, that while some authorities are releasing information within the parameters of the law, others are taking months to do so.

Jennifer Dilbert, the information commissioner, pointed to the importance of the deadlines, which to the applicant waiting on the request already seemed a long period.

Despite a number of issues that still need to be addressed, overall people were using the law and FOI is making a difference, Dilbert said. “One of objectives of the law is to have a better informed public and we feel that’s happening and we are pleased with progress of law,” she said, noting that the goal was to make government more transparent and accountable and that was working.

Nevertheless, the commissioner said she still wanted to see more proactive disclosure of information and pointed to the need for IMs to demonstrate more clearly to applicants why information was being withheld. She said it is not enough for the public authorities to cite an exemption in the law without explaining to applicants the reason why it applies in the given case. Dilbert said that at the appeal and hearings stage her office was seeing too broad an approach, with authorities citing lots of exemptions without really understanding if they actually apply.

Right to Know day takes place on Friday 28 September but the office will be taking part in a number of events throughout the week to encourage more people to use the law under the theme, ‘It’s yours just ask’.

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Category: FOI

Comments (4)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you to Jan Liebars, Jennifer Dilbert and the entire ICO staff for all of your efforts.  I hope you receive the support and the resources to enforce compliance.

    I hope there will be an overhaul in the role of the Information Managers.  I think it should be considered a conflict of interest to have the Superintendent of Pensions also be an Information Manager.  If she hasn't performed her job as Superintendent and an FOI request is made, why would she consider exposing her own shortcomings, and why expose them in a timely manner.

    It would seem that if the people in government positions knew that Information Managers will be looking for compliance, and that the Information Managers actually complied, there would be one less loophole and allow for a more effective and efficient government.  Plus, the employee could have the ability to focus on the task at hand, as opposed to covering up why the information shouldn't be exposed.  Why become part of the problem, it should be the goal of government to be part of the solution and allow government to be transparent.

    Keep up the great work ICO, your efforts are appreciated!!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I am glad we have FOI and the staff seem to be doing their job well. When we consider response times and other criticism of responders from govt departments, do we stop to remember that there is nobody in any office whose only job is to a answer FOI? Everybody has other work, whereas The FOI office is dedicated to FOI. In these trying times with understaffing and pay cuts, they do well to get the information on time.

    • Anonymous says:

      That comes with the job they were hired to do.  Excuses are not considered work accomplished and those who can not perform should be fired and replaced with those whocan.  Its called good businesses practice.  What CIG has now is a failure.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It would seem incompetent hireing equals incompetent workers and poor quality work.  HHMMMmmmm. Thanks for the lesson Cayman.