When the Caymanian Compass last wrote about the country’s new Freedom of Information Law, we said we were hoping for the best, but preparing for some disappointments.
We have to say, in the first two months since the law took effect, we are now of the opinion that FOI might represent more of the ‘best’ rather than a ‘disappointment.’
The FOI process has, for the most part, led to some valuable and interesting information being released in the pages of our newspaper. And there will be more reports on everything from public health, to police, to the courts, to the islands’ finances coming in the future.
In January and February the Compass made 28 open records requests. Fourteen of those were granted in full and a fifteenth request was granted in part.
Five requests are still pending before the agency they were made to. Another four were delayed or had their release deferred according to the provisions of the FOI law. Two were denied outright. One was withdrawn and just one has gone unanswered to date.
When all requests made so far are counted up, it appears the majority sought by the Compass have been granted, at least in part.
This is not to say everything in the process has been easy.
One request is being appealed after the agency stated the records sought were on its website. They were not.
Another government agency took two months to notice we had made an open records request.
In any case, as the process moves forward we are absolutely certain that government will not agree to grant every request for information made by this organisation or anyone else.
We are also certain this newspaper, other news operations and members of the general public will not agree when the various agencies or the information commissioner decide to delay or deny our requests.
And certainly there will be some in the publishing or broadcast business who get upset if they are unable to use FOI to suit their own ends, such as settling personal vendettas or helping them gain more clients or political clout.
But there’s one key aspect to the FOI Law that both the press and general public should welcome: The civil service, statutory authorities, and government companies can no longer simply ignore requests for information. They are required by law to provide a response.
Even if that response is ‘no, you can’t have that information,’ at the very least it is better than the long-established tradition among some public service sectors in this country of sitting quietly by and refusing to respond to the public they purport to serve.