Open records requests begin trickling in

The number of open records requests that came in on the first day Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law took effect was not overwhelming, but officials were still encouraged at the wide areas of interest those requests covered.

‘It’s not a humongous start,’ said Freedom of Information Unit Coordinator Carole Excell. ‘Nobody has been stretched.’

However, Mrs. Excell noted that 21 agencies had received 36 separate requests for information Monday which covered areas of government from the Royal Cayman Islands Police, Ministries of Tourism and Education, the Health Services Authority, and even the Postal Services.

‘There’s a wide range of interests here,’ she said. ‘Not all the requests are going to just one or two agencies.’

Another 41 government agencies did not receive any FOI requests at all. Twenty-eight other agencies had not reported back to the FOI Unit as of press time.

Many of the requests made, and the agencies information was requested of came as no big surprise. Mrs. Excell said there were requests concerning issues such as firearms licensing, rock quarries and dolphinariums.

‘A lot of these issues have been in the news recently,’ she said.

The five agencies receiving the most open records requests on the first day were the RCIPS, the Ministry of Education (including the Human Rights Committee), the Ministry of Tourism, the Immigration Department, and the Postal Service.

What was more unusual, according to FOI officials were the requests that hadn’t been made.

For instance, no open records requests came in to the treasury or finance department.

‘That is quite surprising to me,’ Mrs. Excell said.

She said the FOI Unit intends to keep a monthly tally of all open records requests and will track them through the approval process. The newly formed office of the Information Commissioner is also required to submit a yearly report to the Legislative Assembly on FOI requests.

It was not immediately known how many of the 36 open records requests filed on the first day of the law came from the press, but Mrs. Excell said there was quite a bit of media interest in how things were progressing.

The Caymanian Compass filed several open records requests Monday on various topics and received some feedback. One agency sought more information about the request that was made, and another responded to let the newspaper know a request was being forwarded on to the appropriate agency.

As of press time, none of the requests had been answered, but the FOI Law gives government agencies a maximum 30 days before they must either approve or deny any request for information.

Mrs. Excell said the first day was really not a good indicator of how the open records process would fare in Cayman.

‘By the end of January we should have a more accurate picture of how many people are actually using this law,’ she said.

When the FOI law was introduced in Jamaica, Mrs. Excell said the entire country made only 100 requests during the first month of the law’s implementation. However, she also points out that not all government agencies were included in the law all at once, as has been the case in Cayman.