Without attempting to put a spanner in the works lets get it right at the start; the freedom of information bill will only be as good as the people controlling the information, controlling the bill, the Government, politicians and the civil servants.
Government should have not only a policy of openness rather than secrecy but have a attitude of openness, otherwise it could end up being just a policy, paying lip service, without substance to the bill. We know the elected Government is here on a platform of transparency but the civil servants are here unelected and unopposed.
Let’s look at an example of the freedom of information act in Caymans mother country, the United Kingdom.
The Freedom of Information Bill in the UK failed to cure the BSE (mad cow disease) secrecy problem and a subsequent inquiry found that the secrecy problem at the heart of the BSE crisis will continue to endanger public safety in the future, because of the government’s deeply inadequate Freedom of Information Bill.
The report of the BSE Inquiry, published at the time, concluded there was positive censorship in the early days; there was a clear policy of restricting the disclosure of information about BSE; the withholding of information robbed those who would have had an interest in receiving it of the chance to react to it, that had there been a policy of openness rather than secrecy this would have led to remedial measures being taken sooner than they were.
What guarantee do the people of the Cayman Islands have to say that requested information is correct and provided on a timely basis? Or that information of a public interest is going to be published when it should?
It is interesting to see a section in the bill covering what’s known as whistleblowers, civil servants who may release information they may be obligated to keep secret but do so because of a duty of honesty to prevent a criminal offence, corruption, dishonesty or serious maladministration.
The bill is supposed to protect these honest people from legal, administrative or employment related sanctions. Please give us all a break.
We all know honest people who may blow the whistle will find themselves up to the neck in mud and will, if an expat, not have their work permit renewed. The same honest people who may attempt to tackle the wrongdoing without blowing the whistle will be treated just the same.
Please don’t tell us this protection will work in the Cayman Islands. It will not. There are hundreds of people who have left the civil service because of being honest; the freedom of information bill and all its protective sections will not stem the flow of honest people leaving especially if they are approaching the seven year mark as a resident.
There can be no guarantees and of course it’s a great step that this Government is introducing such a bill. It will take time for the Government to make ongoing adjustment and a longer time for the public to gain trust in the freedom of information bill.
I do wish the Government the very best with this important bill.