FOI office says too few have good websites
This whole Internet thing seems to be catching on with people, the Cayman Islands Information Commissioner’s Office observed in a recent report on government-run websites.
However, in the majority of cases, the commissioner’s office found that government entities weren’t using the World Wide Web to its full potential in allowing people access to public information and in educating residents about Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law.
“A good website … will preempt formal requests for information, but more importantly it will help to make the authority more accountable to the public who, in effect, pays for [government’s] existence,” Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers wrote in the evaluation of government websites.
The report looked at which government entities had created FOI-related webpages in the two-and-a-half years following the implementation of the country’s first Freedom of Information Law. The investigation done by the information commissioner’s office rated the websites of the 90 public authorities in Cayman, including those operated by statutory authorities and government-owned companies.
There is no legal requirement for entities to create a website for anything. However, a template for government FOI websites was set up in 2008, prior to the law coming into effect.
“Public authorities have now had time to develop and establish … best practices,” the review noted. “This includes using the web for the proactive publication of records and improving accessibility to individuals submitting information requests.”
In the review, each public authority was graded on a scale of one to five, with one being the best grade and five, the lowest. Offices were evaluated on a number of issues, including whether FOI-related items and websites were readily available on the government’s main webpage, how often the information there is updated, whether there was a “disclosure log” for open records requests, and what guidance the site has for people who want to use the FOI Law.
Seven out of 10 public authorities in the Cayman Islands government received the equivalent grade of “D” or “F” on the review, Mr. Liebaers said.
“The vast majority of public authorities (71 per cent) have not made any additions or changes to the initial webpage template produced by the Computer Services Department in 2008,” the report found.
In some cases, particularly with smaller departments that depend on computer services to update their webpages, requests to update FOI information were given “low priority”.
“Nonetheless, if appears that other government organisations have found it possible to maintain their websites under similar circumstances,” Mr. Liebaers wrote.
There were many examples of positive work with government information websites, the FOI office noted. The Cabinet Office, the complaints commissioner, the 911 centre, the Education Ministry, the Governor’s Office, Lands and Survey, the Port Authority and the Water Authority were among those. These entities all received a “one” or top rating from the Information Commissioner.
With these entities, disclosure logs listing previous open records requests were up to date and publication schemes containing information about the departments were also updated and complete.
Other agencies that were rated as a “two” – doing a good job but needing a bit of work to get up to date. Those entities included; the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, the Electricity Regulatory Authority, the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, the Planning Department and UCCI.
About 15 per cent of all government entities made it into the higher rating group for having effective and useful public information and FOI assistance on their websites.
Not so good
Dozens of entities whose websites received a four or five in the information commissioner’s ratings – meaning their websites either hadn’t been updated since computer services created the website templates for FOI-related issues in late 2008 – or they simply didn’t have information about open records on their websites at all.
Entities earning a “four” rating included: the Cayman Islands Stock Exchange, the Turtle Farm, Children and Family Services, the Customs Department, Government Information Services, Hazard Management, the Immigration Department, and the National Roads Authority, among nearly 30 others.
Those getting a “five” rating included: the Cayman Islands National Weather Service, the Ministry of Housing and Community Affairs, the Elections Office, the Employment Relations Department, the Ministry of Financial Services, Tourism and Development, the Public Service Pensions Board, Radio Cayman and the Department of Tourism, among others.
Even if they included no information about open records requests, publication schemes or FOI, the vast majority of government departments do have some form of website. Only a handful have no websites at all. That handful includes: the Cayman Islands government service in the UK, the Education Services Department, the Ministry of Financial Services, Tourism and Development, and the Prison Service.
“This investigation confirms that vast improvements are required to the majority of government websites in order to make them meaningful tools for communication between government and the general public on FOI,” Mr. Liebaers said.