No gag order on FOI sub-committee meetings

| 07/12/2010

(CNS): The leader of the opposition and architect of the Freedom of Information law says he is comfortable with the make-up of the sub-committee that has been appointed to review the legislation. Kurt Tibbetts said that in the first instance the discussions would be behind closed doors but there would be no gag order on the proceedings. Following the election of the entire membership of the House to review the law earlier this year, a sub-committee has now been appointed to begin the review and report back to the full membership. Tibbetts, Ezzard Miller, Elio Solomon, Dwayne Seymour and the Speaker of the House, Mary Lawrence, will be meeting for the first time this Thursday under the chairmanship of Attorney General Samuel Bulgin.

The PPM leader and the champion of the legislation said that it was always envisioned that the law would have to be reviewed once it was in place.

“No matter how well prepared we could have been we always knew that, because it was an entirely new thing for the Cayman Islands, once the law was enacted and the workings manifest themselves it would have to be reviewed. By the time the law had been in place for some time we expected there would be a need to look back and review it to make it work more effectively,” Tibbetts told CNS.

The PPM leader said he could not anticipate what would be discussed at the first meeting on Thursday but he said he would be actively participating and he did not feel this was necessarily a secretive process. He said he hoped that there would be public input and he said he intended to speak openly and freely about any considerations or proposals the committee would make.

Tibbetts also noted that there were lines in the sand and he would not support any attempt to remove the right for applicants to remain anonymous when making a request and he said there was no need for any amendments to be made to the law regarding fees, since there was already provision for charging applicants when and if that could be justified.

While the premier has spoken publicly about some of his dislikes about the law, the opposition leader said he did not wish to anticipate what proposals may emerge from the sub-committee’s review but the issue of anonymity was one he believed most people supported.

“There was a rationale behind the introduction of anonymity and there is plenty of room in the system for addressing frivolous applications,” Tibbetts said, warning that trying to remove the right to anonymity would be self-defeating and would certainly limit the use of the law. He also agreed with points raised by the information commissioner on a number of occasions that it would be very difficult to verify that every applicant was who they said they were.

Tibbetts said the make up of the sub committee was fair and once it placed its proposals before the full legislative committee, if he found himself in a minority, in the same way that he would speak out on the floor of the Legislative Assembly about proposed legislation, he would express his opinion on the direction of the review publicly as well.

Ezzard Miller also said he was not concerned that the committee had opted to meet behind closed doors, as he said that was usual when it came to the workings of a select committee. However, he said the meetings were not secret and he would be discussing the outcomes openly. He said the first meetings would be about listening to the research and findings of the Information Commissioner’s Office and its recommendations.

Miller said that despite the public declarations of the premier, he did not think that he would be attempting to remove the anonymity of requesters and said he felt that most members of government werein support of retaining that right and supporting the development of the Freedom of Information Law.

The premier has, however, has been exceptionally critical of the law, citing both the cost to government and the time it takes to deal with requests as problematic. He has also stated on several occasions that he is not happy that “Mickey Mouse can make a request and government has to respond to Mickey Mouse.” The premier has publicly criticised CNS on several occasions for the requests we have made about ministerial spending on travel and expenses.

He also described the Freedom of Information Law on the floor of the Legislative Assembly earlier this year as “nothing but a scandal sheet”.

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