Freedomof Information’s first responders

| 26/09/2014

The Freedom of Information Law has been in effect now for 5 and a half years and public authorities in the Cayman Islands have fielded over 3,500 requests from the public for all kinds of records. Whether it is questions about how the Turtle Farm is operating, what the future holds for electricity generation in Cayman or the travel expenses of your elected officials, all those requests have had to be acknowledged and processed by someone in government, namely Information Managers (IMs).

The IMs are on the front lines when it comes to meeting the government’s obligations under the FOI Law. As part of Right to Know Week we are highlighting IMs and want to take a moment to recognize the busiest IM in the Cayman Islands, Ms. Petula Twinn, LLB from the Immigration Department. Last year Petula fielded over 140 FOI requests, in addition to her regular duties as the Immigration Appeals Coordinator, and she has had only five cases that were appealed to the ICO in the last 5 years.

Petula recently took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions we had for her.

Tell me how long you have been an FOI Manager and what your feelings are regarding the job so far, i.e. challenges, opportunities etc.

I’ve been the FOI Manager for the Department since the FOI Law came into effect. The first year was challenging as the concept of the public being able to simply request and receive documents/information from a government entity was a new one and required a new way of thinking. Additionally, Immigration was one of the departments to receive the most requests, with the majority of requests made by persons wishing to view their immigration files.

Tell me why you think your public authority receives so many requests per year.

Prior to the FOI Law coming into effect, generally persons were not able to view their immigration files and there was a bit of an ‘air of mystery’ about them. Now that persons have access to their files, many    individuals are eager to view their file to see what it contains. In many instances, I have had applicants view their files and comment that they expected it to be a lot more interesting!

Tell me if FOI has in anyway changed the way your public authority does business and whether those changes have been positive or negative, and in what way.

I think the FOI Law has helped Immigration make a number of positive changes in that the department is now more proactive in providing information to the public. For instance, our website now contains all application forms, along with guidance notes and the current Law. We have a ‘Latest Updates’ which provides important information to the public. This information can include changes to the current Immigration Law and new forms or procedures in submitting applications. Currently, this section provides information on changes pertaining to the English Language Test.

Do you feel that FOI has made your public authority more accountable? If so, how?

Definitely. Ithink that just knowing that someone can request a document, whether it be a file note, memorandum, minutes from a meeting, a copy of an email, there is a concerted effort in ensuring information is recorded and stored accurately.

If someone asked you for a tip on how to make a good FOI request what would you say to them?

Try to be as specific as possible about the information that you have requested as it helps the FOI Manager identify the records/information that you need.

If your public authority needed someone to take over the FOI Manager duties from you what type of person would you tell your manager to look for? I.e. what type of personality, experience, education etc., should they be looking for?

Based on my experience with FOI, the position requires someone who is objective, naturally helpful and has an open mind. Many times people are not quite sure of the exact document or information that they are seeking and as the FOI Manager, you must be able to ask the appropriate questions in order to determine what an individual is requesting.

In the words of one IM the job they do is “thankless and tireless” but without them it would not be possible for the public to exercise their very important rights to access public records. That is why the Information Commissioner’s Office would like to thank IMs and Deputy IMs across the public sector for their hard work as FOI’s First Responders .

If you would like to know more about the Information Commissioner’s Right to Know Week Activities or the Freedom of information Law please visit our website at www.infocomm.ky or call us on 747-5402.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The misguided crusade against the Governor and the awful reasoning in those decisions has undermined all the other good work of this body.