FOI critical to governance

I write in my capacity as Information Commissioner for the Cayman Islands in response to your editorial of 7 April, 2009, ‘Scare tactics’.

I do not intend to address any issues related to instructions to civil servants by the Chief Secretary about their conduct. My office, the Information Commissioner’s Office, is independent of the government administration. Our role is to enforce and be an advocate for the new Freedom of Information Law that came into effect on 5 January, 2009. I encourage the people of the Cayman Islands to be aware of their access rights and the systems that are in place to exercise these rights.

Freedom of information is now a statutory right. The FOI Law promotes open government by taking away the ability of a public authority to rely purely on its discretion as to what information to disclose, and by substituting that discretion with a set of uniform and enforceable rules that must be followed in responding to an applicant’s request for records. The Law seeks to strike a balance between the public’s legitimate right to know and the need for public authorities to keep some information confidential in the public interest.

The FOI Law is intended to enhance, rather than replace, other avenues for accessing information about the conduct of government. The government is a custodian of information that properly belongs to the people of the Cayman Islands. Government information provides evidence of important decisions that affect the health and welfare of citizens and the community. The general principle behind the legislation is that only in narrow, justifiable circumstances should the government restrict access to information that citizens may require to actively participate in the democratic process.

Freedom of information is more than a set of rules. It provides a critical mechanism to promote good governance and accountability. My office is working hard to make sure this is accomplished.

Jennifer P. Dilber

Information Commissioner

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