When the Freedom of Information Law took effect at the beginning of this year, the Caymanian Compass wrote an editorial saying we were hoping for the best, but we were expecting disappointments, when it came to the implementation of the law’s provisions.
After the first two months of the year, based on the initial responses to FOI requests made by Compass staff members, we followed up with an editorial stating that FOI seemed to be working, even if the process wasn’t always easy.
Now, unfortunately, six months into the FOI Law implementation, our fears stated in the 5 January editorial seem to have been founded.
Increasingly FOI requests made from our offices are met with delays, deferrals and ultimately denials, leaving us with no choice but to appeal the decision. The delays in getting the information sometimes lead to us receiving information that is no longer relevant to articles on which we were working.
However, we’re not the only ones frustrated by the process.
Cayman Islands Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert lashed out in a press statement issued Tuesday, saying she was coming up against a brick wall at almost every turn in her efforts to carry out the duties of her office.
We sympathise with Mrs. Dilbert; we really do.
Perhaps most disappointing in Mrs. Dilbert’s strongly worded press release was the revelation that she received virtually no support from the previous government.
She said the government had told her it would establish her office six months prior to the implementation of the FOI Law, when it fact it only got established the very day the law came into effect. As a result, Mrs. Dilbert had to start her post with no office, no supplies, no equipment and no staff.
Considering the People’s Progressive Movement continually touted the passage of the FOI Law as a major accomplishment, it is curious the Information Commissioner’s Office didn’t receive more support. Sadly, it seems the FOI Law was at least as much about political lip service as it was about making the country more transparent.
During the first six months of this year, we have learned that in many cases the obstacles blocking our way to the easy access of information tend to be political. The delay of one request until Election Day was proof of that.
If the FOI Law is ever going to really succeed, it will need the support of the sitting government. Right now, the new United Democratic Party is too busy getting a handle on things and trying to get Cayman off the OECD grey list to pay the FOI much mind.
While that is understandable for the time being, this is an issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later, because Mrs. Dilbert is waiting.
And so are we.