Record number of FOI appeals

The Cayman Islands Information Commissioner’s Office had a record number of appeals from people seeking government records during the previous budget year, according to the office’s annual report.

That could mean it’s getting harder to obtain information, but it could also mean that people are starting to understand the proper use of the Freedom of Information Law, the report noted.

“The high number of appeals in 2010/11 may indicate increased sophistication and better understanding of the law on the part of FOI applicants,” the commissioner’s office wrote in its annual review. There were 34 appeals of information requests handled by the office in 2010/11 compared to 14 in 2009/10 and 20 between January and June 2009, the first half-year during which FOI was implemented.

The Cayman Islands’ open records law was passed in 2007, but came into effect on 5 January, 2009. Since then more than 1,800 freedom of information requests have been made to various government entities.

The Information Commissioner’s Office only handles appeals of open records applications where individuals feel the response from government was deficient in some way, either in granting of the record or in response time to the request. Initially, FOI requests are handled internally by the agency to which they are sent.

Overall, the number of open records requests fell from 739 in government’s 2009/10 budget year to 627 in the 2010/11 year.

“After the initial peak of requests received in the first six to 12 months after the law came into effect, the number of applications has gradually dropped to a steady number of just over 50 requests per month,” the commissioner’s report noted.

Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert said she was generally pleased at the “positive effect” on the Islands.

“More information on the workings of government is now routinely made available, records management has improved greatly in some public authorities, and the public is becoming more and more aware of their fundamental right to access information,” Mrs. Dilbert said.

She admits some challenges the country’s open records regime remain particularly regarding the “independence of my office, which I am struggling to establish and maintain”.

“Nonetheless, I am happy to report that there has never been any political interference as I carry out my duties and make what is sometimes uncomfortable decisions for government,” she said.

The total staff of the Information Commissioner’s Office has been reduced by one employee since it started; going from six people to five. Also, the annual budget has been reduced from $875,053 for the 2009/10 year to $653,068 in the 2010/11 year.

Also, a review of the FOI Law by a Legislative Assembly subcommittee and later on by a select committee of the full house is still proceeding. Mrs. Dilbert submitted her recommendations for the law to the subcommittee in September 2010.

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