3000 requests made as FOI reaches 5th anniversary

| 08/01/2014

CNS): It is five years ago this month since the Freedom of Information Law came into force in the Cayman Islands and as a result of the work of a small team at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), government is slowly becoming more accountable. More than 3,000 FOI requests have been made since the law was enacted and the ICO has dealt with more than 140 appeals, 36 of which have gone to full hearings where decisions were handed down. Despite well documented and ongoing procedural problems, which in most cases are down to poor record keeping in government, the law has assisted significantly in improving public sector transparency.

However, five years after the law was implemented by the former PPM administration politicians have failed to complete the review of the legislation, which was mandated by the law itself after twelve months. Although the former information commissioner, Jennifer Dilbert, undertook her review and passed her recommendations to the Legislative Assembly more than 18 months ago, no review of the legislation took place under the previous UDP administration. The acting commissioner has confirmed that the office has received no news on the current administration’s plans regarding the review, which is expected to be examined not just by government but the entire Legislative Assembly.

With several more years having passed since that review, Dilbert said before her retirement that there would now need to be a review of the review because of the greater experience the office has now gained after working with the law for so much longer.

While the office has seen many problems over the five years, it has also witnessed considerable improvements in the work of information managers across the 92 different public authorities that make up the Cayman Islands Government.

“The FOI Law’s requirements for transparency and proactive publication have gradually become accepted by public officials and public authorities. Five years after the Law came into effect, FOI has become a way of life in the public sector and in the Cayman Islands at large, not least thanks to careful vigilance on the part of the Information Commissioner’s Office and a continuing programme of training and public education,” the office stated this week as it marked the five year anniversary.

“As various hearing decisions have brought to light, some infringements continue to occur, but for the most part public authorities – and particularly the information managers in each entity – are trying their best to comply with the Law, to respond to requests on time, and to be more transparent and accountable.”

Upon her retirement, Dilbert thanked all those who helped in the establishment of an effective Freedom of Information Regime in the Cayman Islands.

“I can assure them, and the public in general, that both our Legislation and our operational systems meet or exceed international standards, and in my experience are among the best worldwide,” she said. “The majority of chief officers, heads of departments and statutory boards have embraced FOI, and are ensuring that their entities are well placed to respond to requests and meet the requirements of the Law, including the proactive publishing of as much information as possible.”

Dilbert retired in December 2013 at the end of a five year appointment as commissioner and after more than 30 years of public service. Jan Liebaers was appointed as acting commissioner in January 2014, having served as the deputy information commissioner from June 2010 to December 2013. Prior to that, Liebaers was a key member of the FOI Working Group which drafted the Cayman Islands FOI Bill from 2005 to 2007, as well as the FOI steering and implementation planning committees which assisted in the development and planning of the law.

On the occasion of the laws anniversary the ICO thanked the civil service and successive governments for their support, in particular the information managers, some of whom have been in this important role for the last five years. Through their attendance at the ICO’s training seminars, the commissioner has had the opportunity of being involved with discussions with many of them, and witnessed first-hand their dedication to their sometimes difficult job.

All ICO decisions released to date are posted on the ICO website. Dilbert’s farewell message can also be found on the website in Issue 18 of ICON, the ICO Newsletter.

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Category: FOI

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  1. Anonymous says:

    It would be interesting to learn the percentage of that 3,000 which is solely from news agencies. Probably wishful thinking since the requestor can remain anonymous.

    CNS: Our guess would be a very small percentage. It is our experience that worthwhile FOI requests are enormously time consuming as government entities do everything they can to not respond or poor record keeping makes it difficult for them to respond. Hopefully, this is now changing.