Covert FOI probe finds major flaws

An investigation by Cayman’s Information Commissioner has revealed that while the Freedom of
Information Law
has gained considerable public attention since its
inception in January 2009, some public authorities are having trouble adhering
to the timelines and responding to requests as prescribed by the Law. 

During the investigation, each
member of the information commissioner’s team was assigned two public authorities that were selected
at random.  The staff member contacted the authority anonymously using a pseudonym and requested records
covered by the FOI Law. 

The requests were kept basic since the focus of the investigation was to monitor the time
that public authorities took to respond to requests.  Information Managers at all 88 public authorities were notified of the investigation prior to its
commencement in May.

The investigation uncovered
more widespread problems, according to the information commissioner’s office.  The report
identified that applicants for information faced significant delays in receiving replies
from the authorities and sometimes received conflicting responses.  

Often, applicants needed to
aggressively pursue the authority for a response or volunteer to narrow the scope
of the request in an effort to help the department identify records, the information commissioner’s office noted.  This latter task is one that should have been
instigated by the authority and not the applicant. 

At the end of the investigation only two of
the ten requests received satisfactory responses, the information commissioner’s office noted. .

Information
Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert said that despite the discoveries made during
this investigation, she is hopeful that these results will compel and motivate
authorities to ensure that they have procedures in place to support the FOI
process.

“Freedom
of Information is being embraced in Cayman,” Mrs. Dilbert said. “This is evident by the numerous news stories that reference FOI.What I am concerned about is that
Information Managers, who have been trained to apply the Law, are not always
being given the resources and time to respond to requests.”  

The commissioner said that while the
investigation was originally intended to be a simple ‘check-up’ on timelines of
requests, it quickly turned into a more in depth analysis of the compliance of
authorities with the Law.

“We will be
following up with the authorities involved with this investigation to ensure
that they understand where issues arose and how they can serve the public
better in future requests” said Mrs. Dilbert.  “We intended this
investigation to give us an overall picture of timeline compliance by
authorities.  We included a random and
select number of entities and saw no relevance in targeting them individually
when we were examining the whole picture”.

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