ICO: Information flow is being stymied

Despite a generally encouraging
response after more than a year of the Freedom of Information Law’s existence
in the Cayman Islands, Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert said this week
she’s concerned people asking for government information are being thwarted.

Moreover, the commissioner – who is
responsible for hearing appeals in cases where a person’s request for
government records has initially been denied – said she believes government
agencies are actually impeding her office’s ability to do that job in some instances.

The Freedom of Information Law
states that the commissioner may examine any record to which the law applies,
but in two cases thus far, that right has been challenged by government

In one case that occurred in
February, the Cabinet Office had to be formally ordered to produce a record for
the commissioner’s office. It eventually did so. In a second, more recent case,
another government agency stated it did not need to provide the commissioner’s
office with the records it requested.

“The agency sought the guidance of
a private lawyer, at what must be considerable expense, to represent them in an
appeal,” a press release issued by the commissioner’s office Monday read.

Neither of the records in these
cases was requested to be released to members of the public. Mrs. Dilbert said
her office was simply asking to look at the records as part of their review of
an appeal.

“In order to do their job, my team
must be able to see the record and know what we are dealing with,” she said,
adding that all records given to the commissioner’s office during reviews of
such appeals are to be kept strictly confidential.

Mrs. Dilbert was not specific
regarding a total number of cases where individuals had been denied records
that should have been released. However, she said that it appeared some
requests for information were ended after people applied to the responsible
government agency and were declined.

Mrs. Dilbert stated that applicants
for public records under the FOI Law should always be informed of their right
to appeal denials of those requests, first in an internal review process, and
secondly to the Information Commissioner’s office.

One case in particular that troubled
the commissioner involved an open records applicant who was “made to feel” they
should not have asked for those records and later asked what they intended to
do with them.

It is against the law for any
government agency to ask the latter question of an open records requester.

“Public authorities are not
entitled to ask why a record is being requested,” the commissioner stated.

Since the FOI Law took effect on 5
January, 2009 in the Cayman Islands, more than
1,000 open records requests have been received by government entities,
statutory authorities and government-owned companies.

In 2009, open records requests were
granted in full in just about half of all the applications processed. In about
20 per cent of the cases, the records requested were either exempt from release
or deferred from being released.

Thus far in 2010, no records have
been made available on the government’s website regarding the processing of
open records requests.