As we assume happened in other media houses, the journalists of Cayman Free Press sent out numerous requests for government documents under the new Freedom of Information Law guidelines, which took effect on 3 January.
Under the new law, the various government departments and ministries can take up to 30 days to respond by providing the requested information or by denying the request. As a result, we really did not expect much in the way of responses until the end of this month.
We were delighted to see, then, that three responses have already been received by our journalists. One article about the information received by the auditor general’s office appeared on our front page yesterday. The document requested came with large sections redacted, but nevertheless, it provided some useful information that we also hope the public found interesting.
The particular document came despite the fact that the auditor general’s office had to discuss what it could and could not release with the Royal Cayman Islands Police. It had to do so because the document contained information concerning the on-going investigation the police are carrying out involving the possible misappropriation of University College of the Cayman Islands’ funds by its former president, Hassan Syed.
All government departments have assigned one person to be the information officer, who is the person that deals with FOI requests.
The information officer at the auditor general’s office, Garnet Harrison, said the FOI request from the Caymanian Compass journalist was the first his office had received and he therefore found it ‘interesting to go through the process’. We hope all government department information officers are as keen to deal with their FOI requests as Mr. Harrison.
But the kudos do not stop there. We have also already received responses from the Health Services Authority information officer, Sharaine Chin, and from the Immigration Department information officer, Petula Twinn.
We thank all three of these information officers for embracing the spirit of the Freedom of Information Law, which is basically to promote transparency in government. The provisions of the FOI Law would have allowed these three information officers to delay their responses, but they all came through in less than half of the time allotted.
There are some 90 information officers in the various government ministries, portfolios, departments and statutory authorities. We sincerely hope the other 87 take the fine example of these three information officers.