Joint statement for Right to Know Week by Deputy Governor Franz Manderson and Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert
We are delighted to launch this year’s Right to Know Week, which has, now in its fifth year, become a regular fixture in our government calendar, as well as with the private sector. Freedom of Information, which is a right that is enshrined in our Constitution, has continued this past year to be embraced by the public of the Cayman Islands, with 2,909 requests for records being logged since 2009.
It is obvious that much more information is now being made available to the public than prior to the Freedom of Information Law, either through responses to FOI requests or by proactive publication on the part of many public authorities. The majority of persons have their requests dealt with satisfactorily, and the majority of information managers in government do an excellent job in responding to requests and complying with the FOI Law.
However, with more and better informed users, the number and complexity of appeals being made to the information commissioner have risen significantly. Unfortunately, the time taken for some of these cases to work their way through the appeal process and be eventually resolved, has increased.
This means that in some instances the public has to wait longer for records that they should receive, and public authorities have to expend more time and resources on FOI requests that start off being handled badly.
Chief officers have a critical role to play in ensuring the successful implementation of the FOI Law. On Sept. 2, 2013, chief officers and their deputies met with the information commissioner in lieu of their regular meeting with the deputy governor. The meeting was an opportunity for the Information Commissioner’s Office to present recent statistics on the numbers and handling of FOI cases across ministries and to discuss the roles and responsibilities of chief officers and the obligations the FOI law places on them to ensure that they and their staff are properly dealing with requests, and cooperating with the ICO when an appeal is raised.
The Information Commissioner’s Office also discussed with chief officers specific areas of concern and invited their feedback on topics which included:
a growing number of cases of current or former civil servants experiencing difficulty in obtaining their own personnel files and their personal information kept in other files.
the oversight that chief officers maintained over the handling of FOI requests, in particular to meet deadlines and properly identify and examine records responsive to a request.
delays in the commencement of Hearings due to the fact that the Legal Department is often asked by the public authority to provide legal assistance very late in the appeals process.
continuing poor records management in some public authorities.
The meeting was very productive and we expect that the concerns raised have been viewed seriously and will be properly addressed.
As the event last year was a great success, the deputy governor joins the information commissioner in inviting the public to a “meet and greet” at the Government Administration Building on Friday, Sept. 27.
Also, the civil service and the public are invited and encouraged to dress down in blue on Friday in support of transparency.
We continue to work together to ensure that the public’s right to access information is upheld, resulting in a more transparent and accountable government for all.