FOI Law ignored again

Special meeting ordered

For the third time in four months, Cayman’s Information Commissioner has ruled that the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development ‘failed to comply’ with several sections of the Freedom of Information Law and regulations.

The ruling issued Friday states that, while the ministry did not completely deny an open records applicant their right to information, it indicated the ministry’s actions “had the practical effect of denying the applicant’s right to access the requested record for a period of 79 days”.

Moreover, the Information Commissioner’s Office found that the ministry had not confirmed anyone in the specific role of information manager, which is the person within a government department designated to handle open records requests.

“The public authority has failed to comply with sections 7(3)(b), 7(4)(a), 49(1)(b), of the Freedom of Information Law, 2007 and regulation 21 of the Freedom of Information (General) Regulations,” Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert wrote in her decision on the case.

“This finding continues to be very troubling in the light of the two recent orders of 11 November, 2010, and 9 December, 2010, in which the Information Commissioner found very serious breaches relating to the handling of previous [open records] applications by the ministry,” Mrs. Dilbert stated. “I also note that this follows several invitations from this office to meet with the chief officer of the public authority, which have not been accepted.”

Mrs. Dilbert on Friday ordered the ministry to – within 10 calendar days of her decision – confirm its appointment of an information manager. She also required that the appointee receive training by the government’s FOI Unit within 15 days.

Finally, the information commissioner has ordered the ministry’s chief officers, relevant senior officers and the appointed information manager to attend a meeting with her office no later than 28 February “to discuss such steps as may be necessary or expedient to bring the ministry in compliance with its obligations under the law”.

Mrs. Dilbert said the appointment of the information manager within the ministry should not be “interpreted to mean” that a separate post should be created.

“The responsibilities may be assigned to an already existing member of the public authority,” she said.

The ministry was given 45 days to appeal the information commissioner’s decision to the Grand Court, as is permitted under the FOI Law.

The request

On 9 November, 2010, the Caymanian Compass sent a request to dozens of central government departments, seeking to determine whether any had given pay raises between 1 March, 2010, and 31 October, 2010. The request sought the amounts of those pay increases and to determine how many employees within each department, portfolio, ministry or agency were granted pay increases.

The newspaper also asked the entities to state the reasons each pay increase was given.

The Information Commissioner’s Office found that 51 days after making the initial request, and receiving responses from some authorities, the applicant sent a ‘follow-up’ email to the outstanding authorities including the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development.

Seventy days after the initial request was made, a third ‘follow-up’ email was sent to four remaining outstanding applicants, including the ministry.

“On 20 January, 2011, 72 days after making the request and after receiving responses from three of the four outstanding authorities, the applicant contacted and informed the Information Commissioner’s Office that the [ministry] had failed to acknowledge the applicant’s request,” the commissioner’s office stated.

Not one email, even to confirm receipt of the initial request, was sent to the Caymanian Compass up to that point.

One week after the complaint to the information commissioner, the ministry managed to produce the records sought by the newspaper. That occurred 79 days after the initial request.

FOI applicants are supposed to receive a response from the agency handling their requests within 30 days of the initial application, unless the government agency asks for an extension of time.

“The [ministry] took an inordinately long time to provide access to the responsive record,” the commissioner’s office stated.

Previous cases

The Information Commissioner’s Office found late last year that the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development contravened the Freedom of Information Law by failing to respond to two open records requests.

The first case involved a request for information submitted on 12 May, 2010, on how much the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development spent on travel for Premier McKeeva Bush and his companions, and how much was spent on each trip.

According to the findings of an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Officer, the applicant in that case had still not received a full response 210 days after the application was made.

In the second case, on 3 June, 2010, the Caymanian Compass requested a copy of a report on an independent review of the Fire Services Department following the conviction of a male fire officer for indecent assault of a female colleague. The Compass also requested details of any new procedures put in place by the Fire Services Departments in response to the review and matters arising from the court case.

On 10 November, 160 days after the request was made, the human resources manager said the requested report pertained to an ongoing legal case and could not be released.

1 COMMENT

  1. What kind of example is this to set for young Caymanians. Its a clear message – if you can get away with ignoring the law and its in your best self-interest, then go ahead! Its also clear that as long as officials can hide in the anonymity of their office no-one will take responsibility. In the absence of any true accountability and with no official every being held to task for ignoring the law, this will continue. Let us see if those responsible will again ignore the Commissioner or comply with her latest order to attend a hearing. One would hope that they would eventually come to their senses, but their actions to date do not seem hopeful.

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