No rush expected for FoI requests

Though people will have access to most government records under the proposed freedom of information law, officials aren’t expecting a rush on requests since the legislation itself will make government adapt its practices to more openness.

This was the view expressed by Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts as he discussed the Freedom of Information Bill with residents of Cayman Brac held recently at the Aston Rutty Centre, said a GIS press release.

Mr. Tibbetts said he foresees a transformation in the civil service’s approach to information management and disclosure. ‘Once there is the culture change, that is going to result in less and less requests for information because we will change our way of doing business.’

The district meeting in the Brac to discuss the coming bill marked an end to the first phase of the public consultation exercise. During this phase, Ministers, Members of the Legislative Assembly and key civil servants, along with international FoI consultant Tanya Karlebach, discussed the bill with residents of West Bay, East End, North Side, Bodden Town and George Town. A special session was also organised for all teachers, the release said.

Brackers at Friday’s meeting asked that no public officers be appointed to an appeals tribunal. They reasoned that civil servants should not be deciding on public appeals against the way information requests are handled by fellow government workers.

Consistent with queries at other district meetings, they sought precise definitions for terms such as ‘unreasonable’ and ‘vexatious’ that are used in the bill to describe conditions under which an information request can be denied. Ms Karlebach explained that ‘vexatious’ as referred to in the law meant ‘repetitious’, and that these were common terms in FoI laws. She said that only in extreme circumstances of repetitiveness would they be applied.

One questioner wanted to know whether the FoI law would give civil servants the liberty to applaud politicians at meetings. Mr. Tibbetts explained that this was not governed by the draft FoI law, but agreed that it was relevant. He noted that the pending Personnel Regulations would remedy some of the more unreasonable restrictions placed on civil servants under the General Orders.

The regulations will accompany the Public Service Management Law that was enacted last November but comes into force on 1 July.

Members of the public have until 28 April to suggest changes to or request clarification on the Draft FoI bill.

Mr. Tibbetts encouraged those present at the meeting to make their opinions known either by email to [email protected] or by letter to the Cabinet Office, Government Administration Building, Elgin Avenue George Town.

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