Information Commissioner Jennifer
Dilbert strongly affirmed last week that the Freedom of Information Law is
alive and well when she ordered the Cabinet Office to provide transcripts of
three rounds of constitution negotiations between the UK Foreign and
Commonwealth Office and various Cayman Islands representatives that took place
between September 2008 and February 2009.
The Cabinet Office tried to
withhold the release of the transcripts on four grounds of exemption from the
FOI Law, some of which bordered on ridiculous.
Among other things, the Cabinet Office argued that the release of the
transcripts would prejudice Cayman’s international relations, presumably with
the FCO since they were the only international entity involved in the talks.
However, the FCO had told former Governor Stuart Jack last year that it no
longer had any objection to the release of the transcripts, something the
Cabinet Office was aware of at least since last November.
The Cabinet Office also argued that
the release of the transcripts would inhibit the free and frank exchange of
views for the purposes of deliberation.
It appears the Cabinet Office is saying that if the people who
represented the Cayman Islands for some of the most important negotiations in
its history had known they would be held accountable for what they said, they
either wouldn’t have spoken up or they would have said something different. If
this truly reflects the integrity of the people representing the Cayman
Islands, we are in a seriously sad state of affairs.
Another curious aspect of the Cabinet Office’s resistance
to the FOI request is why civil servants, who had no position in the talks, are
the ones fighting against the release of the transcripts. We believe this is just another case of civil
servants fighting the spirit of the FOI Law just because they can. The elected politicians often get blamed for
the lack of transparency in Cayman’s government, but in many cases, it is civil
servants who deserve the blame. If FOI is going to be a success, the civil
service needs to be more cooperative with the information requests it receives,
or Mrs. Dilbert might find herself making lots of orders in the future.