Cayman’s growing interest in open
government and continued use of the Freedom of Information Law was dealt a
serious blow last week.
Premier McKeeva Bush stated the
legislation “costs the country a lot” while lambasting a local news agency for
attempting to find out details of his travel since May 2009.
While the manner in which this
request was made may have caused more work than necessary for the civil servants
who had to retrieve the data, the part of the question relating to a publicly
elected official’s taxpayer-funded travel is a fairly routine query asked by
reporters in many countries that have credible, established open records
The effect of Mr. Bush’s public
blasting of the information request, and subsequent backhanding of the FOI Law
which allowed it, is potentially twofold: 1) His stance may make civil servants
who didn’t want to bother with the law in the first place feel it is
permissible to ignore the constitutionally imposed edict; and 2) It could make
civil servants who are following the law now somewhat reluctant to do so,
knowing the premier doesn’t seem to think very much of it.
The FOI Law sets out a detailed
process on how open records requests are dealt with. This process allows
government to disregard requests considered frivolous or vexatious. It also
allows for an appeals scenario that protects the interests of all sides in a
dispute over the release of public records, including those who have personal
information contained in those documents.
But rather than trusting the
process, Premier Bush has taken one example and used it to make a punching bag
of a law that is essential to Cayman’s development as a democracy.
If Mr. Bush has concerns about the
cost of FOI, let us humbly remind him there are two separate government
agencies that have been created to deal with the law. One of those agencies was
initially anticipated to sunset as FOI implementation moved forward.
And regarding the
length of time requests are taking, surely the government could speed FOI matters
along by providing requested records in a prompt and forthright manner – rather
than attempting to use any excuse under the sun, moon and stars to foil
transparency and open government.