The Cayman Islands proposal for this country’s first Freedom of Information law is expected to be brought before the next meeting of the Legislative Assembly. But when it might actually take effect is another matter.
‘The plan is once the legal drafting people can complete the bill…to get it on a business paper and get the bill tabled in time so the members can have sufficient time that we can debate it,’ Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said during Friday’s cabinet briefing.
Mr. Tibbetts cautioned that it will still take a considerable period for the FOI process to start working, if a bill is approved.
‘The actual date of the law coming into force will not be immediately. The implementation process is one whereby we’re going to have to go through some training in the various departments.’
Also, Mr. Tibbetts noted another bill will be tied to the Freedom of Information proposal. He said the Public Records bill will deal with how government agencies archive and store records that may be requested under FOI. That plan is expected to come before the next LA as well.
The bill has been the subject of public discussion for more than a year. Cayman Islands government officials have admitted the process of implementing it went much more slowly than first planned.
‘(It was) because of the volume of feedback that came,’ said Tim Hubbell, Director of Special Projects for the Cabinet Office.
Mr. Hubbell said the deadline for public comments on the FOI plan was initially set in June 2006. But a working group of Cabinet Ministers, MLAs, civil servants and a consultant examining the plan wanted to wait until everyone had submitted their input.
‘It came from civil and human rights groups, legal societies, public and private sector entities,’ said Mr. Hubbell. ‘Because the feedback was substantial, we felt we should consider it, even though it was received past the deadline.’
In general, FOI laws provide any member of the public access to, or copies of, certain government records.
Under the plan now being discussed for the Cayman Islands, anyone interested in obtaining such records would have to fill out a request form. The government would then have a specific time in which it would have to respond to that request.
A charge for the service is likely, if the bill passes. Just what that fee will be isn’t known yet. Mr. Tibbetts has said the Governor-in-Cabinet will be allowed to waive the charges in certain cases.
Government officials have also previously stated that no one requesting information will be questioned as to why they are asking for it.
There are certain limits on what the public can request.
A draft of the plan tabled as a discussion paper in the LA in November 2005 said the law would apply to government records up to 30 years old. Under that proposal, Mr. Tibbetts said certain information related to security, international relations, Cabinet documents and documents affecting the national economy would be somewhat restricted, or prohibited entirely from release.
Other exemptions might include documents referred to under the Monetary Authority Law, and documents related to businesses exempted under the Companies Law.
Officials note there may be substantial changes made from the plan that was introduced in the 2005 LA, and the one which is now being drafted. Mr. Hubbell said Cabinet Members suggested changes to the plan in October after the working group completed its review.