Following three documented breaches of Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law in four months, Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert said Thursday that the government Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development is back on the right track with the country’s open records law.
“I feel now that they are paying more attention to it and realising that they may have to put more resources into it,” Mrs. Dilbert said.
The information commissioner met privately with ministry officials, including chief officers and information managers late last month. She said the meeting was quite productive and that the ministry has agreed to designate both an information manager and a deputy information manager.
In addition, she said there will be specific individuals identified as FOI helpers within each “unit” of the ministry; those include one person to handle the tourism and development side, another to deal with financial services, and a third to assist with requests in public finance.
Mrs. Dilbert said one of the problems the ministry was having in responding to requests is that it was simply so large and covered so many areas of government.
“I feel for them because they can’t call any of the requests vexatious and they can’t call them an unreasonable diversion of resources,” she said. “The problem that they’re having…is that they are being inundated with requests – that ministry in particular.”
The FOI Law allows organisations to refuse requests that are received repeatedly or those that they would have to spend an unreasonable amount of time and staff effort in finding answers.
Also, Commissioner Dilbert said many of the requests sent to the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development, which is led by Premier McKeeva Bush, are complex and often ask several questions in one request.
“They just cover so many different aspects, and people are just naturally curious about what the premier is doing,” Mrs. Dilbert said.
The number of FOI requests being received by the ministry and other government departments over the past year – the second year the law has been in existence in Cayman – is encouraging, Mrs. Dilbert said.
“It is working,” she said. “I do feel that people are getting more and more open.”
Mrs. Dilbert said FOI office representatives have recently met with several government-appointed boards and committees about the open records law and how it should be applied.
“When we sit there with them and we go through the exemptions (to the law) and we explain to them ‘this is protected, this needs to go out’…then they say ‘I feel a lot better about it now’.”
Several government appointed boards have begun putting minutes of regularly scheduled meetings on their websites, although most have declined to hold open meetings where members of the general public can attend.