$1.2M slated for FOI

Putting a system in place to deal with public requests for government information is expected to cost the Cayman Islands slightly less than $1.2 million in next year’s budget.

According to the 2007-2008 annual plan released at Legislative Assembly last week, about $660,000 will be spent on compliance with Freedom of Information Legislation. Another $492,000 has been set aside for Freedom of Information coordination.

The entire budget proposal still must be reviewed and approved by the LA’s finance committee in the coming weeks before an actual spending plan is adopted. The Cayman Islands new fiscal year begins 1 July.

Part of the money will go toward the creation of the Office of the Information Commissioner, an independent body that will serve an arbitrator’s function in cases where information requests are refused and then appealed.

The annual report also notes that a Freedom of Information Unit will be funded to help train various government entities in providing access to public records.

Carole Excell, a Jamaican attorney, has recently been appointed as Cayman’s FOI coordinator. An Information Commissioner has not yet been appointed.

Freedom of Information laws generally allow members of the public to request various government records, and set time limits within which government entities must respond to those requests. The Cayman Islands does not have such a law.

A Freedom of Information Bill is expected to be laid on the table of the Legislative Assembly in a matter of months, according to Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts.

The proposal will allow any existing government documents to be requested by the public. Certain records would be partially redacted or kept from release entirely depending on issues of national security, the national economy, or the privacy of financial and trade secrets.

Those requesting information are likely to be charged a fee, but Mr. Tibbetts has said requestors will not be asked to give any reasons for why they are seeking the government records.

The first Freedom of Information proposal was brought before the Legislative Assembly for discussion in 2005. The plan was later sent out for public comment; and for review by a select committee.

Mr. Tibbetts had hoped the LA could vote on the bill by March, but said the matter was delayed to allow government time to set up the offices needed to handle public information requests.

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