‘Fred’ reveals FOI problems

| 27/09/2010

(CNS): As Right to Know Week got underway on Monday, the Information Commissioner released a report revealing "widespread problems" in compliance with the Freedom of information Law. Her third own-initiative investigation, coined internally ‘Operation Fred’, found public authorities are having trouble adhering to the timelines and responding to requests as prescribed by the law. The operation involved the ICO team making anonymous requests of ten randomly selected public bodies and monitoring their efforts. The office said the requests were basic as the focus of the investigation was originally to monitor and track the time public authorities took to respond to requests but uncovered further issues.

“The report identified that the ICO applicants faced significant delays in receiving replies from the authorities and sometimes received conflicting responses,” the office revealed.  “Often, the ICO applicants needed to aggressively pursue the authority for a response or volunteer to narrow the scope of the request in an effort to help the IM identify records. This latter task is one that should have been instigated by the authority and not the applicant. At the end of the investigation only two of the ten requests received satisfactory responses.”
 
Information Managers at all of government’s 88 public authorities were notified before the investigation began that the ICO was undertaking the initiative, though the departments did not know if they had been selected. Despite this, however, most of the ten departments that were selected struggled to meet the demands of the law.
 
Information Commissioner JenniferDilbert said that despite the discoveries made during this investigation, she is hopeful that the results will now compel and motivate authorities to ensure that they have procedures in place to support the FOI process. 
 
“Freedom of Information is being embraced in Cayman,” she said, adding this was illustrated by the numerous news stories that reference FOI. “What I am concerned about is that Information Managers, who have been trained to apply the Law, are not always being given the resources and time to respond to requests.”  
 
She explained that while the investigation was originally intended to be a simple ‘check-up’ on timelines of requests, it quickly turned into a more in depth analysis of the compliance of authorities with the law.
 
“We will be following up with the authorities involved with this investigation to ensure that they understand where issues arose and how they can serve the public better in future requests,” Dilbert added. The commissioner explained that while the report names the ten authorities monitored during this investigation in general, it does not specifically identify which body failed in which area.
 
“We intended this investigation to give us an overall picture of timeline compliance by authorities. We included a random and select number of entities and saw no relevance in targeting them individually when we were examining the whole picture,” Dilbert said.
 
The commissionersaid she intends to conduct future investigations along these same lines and will name those authorities who are not in compliance with the law. “We are working hard to promote FOI and the rights afforded by the Law. It is imperative that the process works as it was intended and deadlines set in the Law must be followed,” Dilbert warned.
 
The commissioner also encouraged anyone who has made a request and has not received the information they sought, or who was generally unsatisfied with the experience, to contact her office on 747-5402 or info@infocomm.ky

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Comments (21)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Cayman should not beat itself up too much on this one because FOI statutes have these kinds of problems everywhere that they are in effect. Governments are only semi-competent in the best of cases.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Welcome to the 21st century Cayman. The people have found their voice and a vehicle to express their most pressing concerns in a way that is both democratic and rigorous.

    Jennifer ~ to you and your team, thankyou.You are challenging the status quo and emboldening the voting public. No longer is our only recourse to  be heard the radio talk shows. Now we have a true advocate for truth that withstands scrutiny and is charged with upholding the truth without fear or favour.

    • todder says:

      Great statement, but be careful… it could be that Jennifer also need someone to check and balance her and the FOI team. They have alot of independent power. Who will check them?

      • Anonymous says:

        Mikey!

      • Anonymous says:

        You are quite right, this law applies to "Jennifer and her team" as well. PLEASE ASK! Ask if you want any records from the ICO Office- Please ask!  Im sure it will be shown that the law applies to the ICO as well.

  3. Scrooge McDuck says:

    Although there are some problems the advent of freedom of information is the best thing to have happened on Cayman in a long time.  Be the change you want to see, work through the frustrations with the assistance of the FOI office, and support it fully.

    ps. Hi Mickey!

  4. mickey says:

    Are you actually implying that the managers of the Governments public authorities now need to make sure their people get work done?  Good one!  And what happens if they don’t.  Has ANYONE gotten fired for not working in Cayman Government?  Are they really still working on the last 6 years accounting of Government spending or have they finally given up trying to remember where all the money went?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Incompetent record keeping is also a big reason that FOI is troublesome for many government entities.

    The government cannot produce auditable financial statements for the same reason.

    The National Archive gives ongoing courses to government personnel on proper record keeping practices. Eventually, things sould become better.

    The FOI law is probably a good cayalyst for improvement.

    Jennifer must be careful about pointing out problems within government. Look what happened to the previous auditor general.

     

  6. Anonymous says:

    I hope before Mrs Dilbert names ‘authorities who are not in compliance with the law" she gets her facts 100% correct because at least on one of her reports in this recent document ("read ICO reports") of hers she is, quite simply, completely wrong and we will come after her like a ball of fire, with legal assitance, to let her know she must do better work and not attempt to embarass us in this way..It’s Freedom of Information not Freedom of Mischief.

    • Anonymous says:

      "…we will come after her like a ball of fire, with legal assitance…"

      What kind of statement is that?  I read that as a serious threat to the ICO.

       

       

      • Anonymous says:

        Mon 21:07, I think the poster you refer to is just frothing at the mouth because he/she was caught in what in effect was a "sting" or "entrapment" operation. No one likes that to happen to them. The ICO need not fear any rants like that one once they operate within their law and according to ethical principles. Todder’s point above, however, touches (much more rationally) on the same concern, though. The ICO has power and must use it carefully. If it is going to "name and shame" in the future, it must be very very careful it gets its case 100% correct.

    • Anonymous says:

      scared of something? 

    • Rorschach says:

      I sincerely hope that your legal team is more literate than you…otherwise this is a bit of a joke…

  7. Anonymous says:

    It didn’t take Fred to "reveal to us" the problems of FOI. We all know the biggest problem with FOI is the premier, nothing more nothing less. He is the biggest obstacle for FOI.

    • Lachlan MacTavish says:

       With "old style Bush control politics" information is power and control. Under the present system why would anyone in power want to see information released. On the flip flop the more information the present power system has the better.

    • Pauly Cicero says:

      I disagree. The problems most evident are operational in nature. Responses must be complete and timely but must also be lawfully divulged. Responses will improve as procedures become better defined.

      • Anonymous says:

        You make a good point. To add to that, in many of the ministries/departments/public authorities, the information manager has their FOI responsibilities on top of their regular job. Oftentimes a delayed or inadequate response is a result of inadequate resources. Also, keep in mind only 10 entities were part of this "investigation," and those 10 might very well not be indicative of how well FOI is operating overall (for example the 10 might have been chosen particularly because they are showing trends of being late in giving responses or complaints have been issued against them). I know Ms. Dilbert said they were partially chosen at random, but she also stated some were chosen with intent.

        I think overall FOI is progressing nicely, and has been steadily improving over time as information managers grow more accustomed to their tasks. As long as they are given adequate resources to carry out their job as it pertains to FOI, I see problems with responses becoming much rarer in the future.

        • Anonymous says:

          All departments were chosen at random…try reading the actual report and pay particular attention to the portion entitled "Background".

    • Anonymous says:

      As a recipient of one of these requests from the anonymous Obergruppenfuhrer of the Gestapo at the ICO, I would observe that Cayman should have been careful what it wished for.But it was Kurt’s big baby and it provides good jobs with massive salaries to the civil servants involved so that’s alright then.

       But just wait for Human Rights!

      • Anonymous says:

        Freedom of information is already a human right.  What other Human Rights are you waiting for?

        Are you upset because you were one of the government authorities that failed to respond within the timeline or are you simply a fan of Viviane Reding?

        Tread carefully when making comparisons to Nazi party paramilitary groups.  The ICO is fighting for YOUR freedoms.

    • todder says:

      nah!  I think using the premier as a scapegoat is getting too old now. Old rhetoric – he is to blame for everything! The FOI provisions are there bold and clear. It is "YOU" who have to be responsible and use those provisions rightfully. That is the biggest obstacle for FOI