Full House to review FOI Law

The
Cayman Islands government has appointed a committee of the entire Legislative
Assembly to review the Islands’ first 18 months under the Freedom of Information
Law.

Speaker
of the House Mary Lawrence will chair the committee. All members of the LA will
be allowed to attend.

According
to the law, which took effect on 5 January, 2009, legislators are required to
review it within its first year-and-a-half of operation. That 18 month deadline
is Monday, 5 July.

The
FOI law allows anyone to request information held by the Cayman Islands
Government, its statutory authorities and government entities. 

Premier
McKeeva Bush – who previously called the law a “scandal sheet” – said Wednesday
in the Legislative Assembly that the committee would have the ability to summon
witnesses and would consider two issues in particular: the fee structure
attached to the law, and the provision in the law that allows requests for
information to be made anonymously.

Mr.
Bush said he appointed the committee to “ensure that this review was not seen
as any party or political agenda”. Despite the legal requirement for the FOI
review, opposition party MLA Alden McLaughlin said he was not convinced that
would be the case “given some of the public utterances of the premier
recently”.

Mr.
McLaughlin said any Freedom of Information regime in any country was likely to
give the sitting government some consternation.

“It’s
designed to do just that,” he said. “We have to develop a level of tolerance
and a willingness to accept these sorts of provisions are critically
important.”

The
opposition member said he was concerned that any attempt to increase fees for
FOI requests and efforts to require those filing a request to identify
themselves would have a “chilling effect” on the progress of the law in Cayman.

Mr.
Bush said that FOI Laws have been recognised worldwide as necessary to freedom
of speech and assured legislators that providing information didn’t upset the
ruling United Democratic Party government.

However,
the premier questioned whether the law was functioning as well as it could in
Cayman and noted that even Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert had stated
concerns about the cost of the measure.

“FOI
was not intended to, nor should it become, a financial burden on our country,”
Mr. Bush said, adding that government was concerned about an already strained
Civil Service having to perform “menial tasks” in retrieving data that was
often time-consuming and difficult to find.

Premier
Bush also said that opposition claims about him not supporting open records
regimes were simply false.

“I
have always supported the principle of FOI…and I continue to have that belief,”
he said.

However,
the premier noted that, in some cases, people who anonymously requested
information had used the law to satisfy political ends; some making those
information requests under names like “Mickey Mouse”. He said he did not
believe this was what the law originally intended.

Education
Minister Rolston Anglin said there was absolutely no intention on the UDP
government’s part to repeal the FOI Law.

“It’s
here; it’s here to stay,” Mr. Anglin said.

He
accused Mr. McLaughlin of being a contrarian who was just looking to make
trouble for the government.

“The
MO (modus operandi) of the opposition is quite simple: everything is about
trying to cast aspersions…doubt about the premier,” Mr. Anglin said.

“The
government is not going to sit idly by and let them mislead the public.”

Information budget

Information
Commissioner Dilbert’s office has been given responsibility for its own budget,
a move Mrs. Dilbert said is crucial to establishing the independence of that
office.

Previously,
the information commissioner’s operations were being funded out of the
Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs budget, and Mrs. Dilbert had
complained about delays in hiring key personnel and in setting up the office.

Under
the new arrangement, Mrs. Dilbert will report directly to a committee of the
Legislative Assembly, as do Cayman’s two other independent government watchdog
agencies, the complaints commissioner and the auditor general.

The
Information Commissioner’s Office is responsible for hearing appeals of cases
where requests for government information have been initially denied.

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