Persistence prevails on FOI

| 20/09/2010

(CNS): Government has given up its legal fight to keep secret the AMMPA standards and guidelines following an FOI request made by local activist Billy Adam. The guidelines were used to inform animal management standards at the country’s two controversial dolphinariums but the Department of Agriculture refused to release them. Officials said they had obtained the guidelines in confidence and therefore could not make them public, despite the FOI request. Adam appealed the refusal, which went to the information commissioner, who ruled in favour of the release. Despite that ruling, government began court proceedings to keep the document under wraps but then abandoned the application for judicial review last week and handed over the document.

Adam said this was an important victory for freedom of information and illustrated that the law does work in favour of the people and freedom. Having gone through the lengthy process from the original request in May of last year to the proposed judicial review, which was dropped last week, Adam said it demonstrates people should not give up when they are refused documents by government officials, no matter how long the battle. He pointed out that he was not the first person to make the request but he was the only person to pursue the release of the document through the entire process.
 
“I encourage people that whenever a request is denied to always follow through with the appeals and not take nofor an answer,” Adam said. “This really is a victory is for the people of the Cayman Islands because government can no longer do as it pleases. The principle of the rule of law is beginning to come to Cayman.”
 
The Cayman Islands Legal Department, which was representing the DoA, did not give reasons as to why it had decided to drop the application for judicial review but Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert said she was pleased that the department has now complied with her original order and released the records to the applicant. However, she noted that she had welcomed the opportunity to participate in what would have been the first judicial review of one of her decisions.
 
“The application for judicial review did delay the release of the document. However I believe that
the FOI process does work and that the applicant in this matter followed through with their
request and was successful in obtaining the record they sought,” she added.
 
Adam pointed out that government had been particularly reluctant torelease this information but was finally made to comply as a result of the law. “FOI is beginning to bring some accountability into governance. Government cannot keep some laws and regulatory documents secret. All laws and regulatory documents must be published,” he added. “The FOI law is allowing the sharing of knowledge and important information with everyone and we must make sure we all use it to improve our understanding of how we are being governed and hold those in authority accountable.”
 
As a vocal opponent to the dolphinariums, Adam had long raised concerns about how the standards at the parks were being monitored. He said the release of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums guidelines was an important factor in allowing the public to see for themselves if the standards at these two parks measured up to the ones government alleged to have set for the local captive dolphin facilities.
 
The request made to the Department of Agriculture was refused as the government claimed it had only been given the guidelines by the AMMPA in confidence as the standards are not available publicly but only to members of the alliance. As neither of the facilities are members of the AMMPA this raised further concerns that the facilities themselves were not privy to the standards by which they were supposed to protect and care for the dolphins.
 
The information commissioner found that the department could not keep secret a document that was essentially informing a policy decision and ruled in April that the document be released.
However, the DoA did not release the document and said it intended to pursue a judicial review. The 45 day deadline following the information commissioner’s decision came and went with no sign of the document.
 
Adam said government also failed to inform him of its actions regarding the judicial review and he had to press for updates from officials. “The fact that they tried to keep their efforts secret is another example of the failure of good governance,” Adam said. “I am asking the governor publicly what he intends to do about this constant failure of government to obey the law. After all, it is suppose to be his office that upholds good governance.”
 
Eventually, however, Adam was told last Friday (17 September) that government was giving up the judicial review. He was then given the document he had requested, one year and four months after he made the FOI application.
 
Adam said he would be commenting on the content when he has had the opportunity to fully digest the document properly, but in the meantime, he said, it was the fact that the release had finally been made which was itself noteworthy, especially coming on the eve of “Right to Know Week”, when the country will be focusing on the importance of the freedom of information law.
 
Although Adam has chosen to discuss the case publicly on this occasion, the information commissioner said that as a matter of policy her office does not name requesters as everyone is at liberty to make FOI requests anonymously.
 
In the meantime, CNS also continues to battle with government over a number of FOI requests and is currently following appeals on a number of those documents that have been withheld from the public, including the report on proposals to revise the legal aid system as well as the details of perks and benefits currently being given to government ministers over and above their salaries, pensions and health benefits.
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Category: FOI

Comments (15)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This all terrific, but where can we see the guidlines? Can yu get it from Mr. Adams?

    CNS: AMMPA Standards and Guidelines 2008 We’ll be doing a story on this at some point.

  2. Len Layman says:

    Great job and thank you Billy. 

    I would be interested is seeing what is in the guidelines.

    Sometimes it pays to hang in there.

  3. Anonymous says:

    another day..another humilating u-turn / flip-flop for this sorry excuse of a government    

    anywhere else in the world someone would lose their job over this….

  4. Don Mitchell says:

    Congratulations, Billy, on your perseverance and success. I look forward to reading your comments and seeing the documents too when you have had a chance to study them.

  5. An Ony Mous says:

    Sometimes I get tired of listening to Billy and his rantings, but I have to say on this occasion, "Well done, Mr. Adam."  This is exactly the kind of thing that FOI was intended for, and good for you for having the perseverence to see it through.  A great victory for FOI.

  6. BritPop says:

    I Wonder. Would an expat be able to see one’s own immigration file under FOI?

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes you can. Actually Immigration gets more requests than any other government body. It will make no difference if you are an expat or not. Ms. Petula Twinn runs the FOI shop there and does a great job.

    • Anonymous says:

      I know of someone who requested letters on their file following a permit being turned down, they were then informed there was nothing on the file… I would suggest that any expat who believes a decision has been incorrectly applied against them because they feel there is something on their file, should request a copy of thier file, especially if they are appealing a decision or leading up to a key employee aplication as there is no right of appeal on key employee.

      Personally I think you should be able to review any complaint that is made against you, FOI or no FOI.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes.  Email the Information Manager at the Department of Immigration foi.imm@gov.ky and state that you would like to view your own immigration file.  They will set up an appointment for you to do so. 

  7. nauticalone says:

    To the DoA and Legal Dept; "Dah wha ya get!"

    Thank you Billy for standing firm. And thank you CNS for your many FOI requests also. And Micky Mouse too!

    Try so get with the 21st century nah Govt./Politicians…Nuff with the old deny and cover up.

    Seems that more than 50% of Govt. effort is to hinder and frustrate the public that it is supposed to be serving???

    Try for REAL, the "Transparency" and "Good Governance" that is spoken of in speeches when politically correct. Doing so will actually bring about REAL progress….for ALL!

  8. Anonymous says:

    It is my opinion that any government or elected member of government that is against FOI has something to hide. It goes without saying that if a person, or an elected official, has nothing to hide they will support FOI! Only the guilty try to keep their dealings hush-hush, but they must not fear because all shall be revealed eventually. Maybe that is what is scaring him so much, he’s scared of what will be revealed!

  9. Twyla Vargas says:

    Very Good Mr Adams, thats what I call "not giving up"  We need many more men like you, who stand firm for what they believe in, Caymanian to the bone.

    • Anonymous says:

      There is no such thing as Caymanian, or so says the stupid anti-Caymanian lot. Well done Billy, you are a true Caymanian (oooops) 

  10. Joe Average says:

    Good on you Billy.  And good on you CNS.  Surprisingly this is also good for government, as it brings it back to the people where it should beand where it ultimately originated.