Message from the Information Commissioner’s Office on Right to Know Week
Freedom of Information is alive and well in the Cayman Islands, and as we are approaching the fifth anniversary of the FOI Law coming into effect, this is a good opportunity to look back and consider a few of the statistical trends that have characterized FOI in Cayman between 2009 and 2013.
Numbers of requests
Up until last year, the number of requests made to government had gradually decreased. After an initial sharp spike in requests in 2009 and early 2010, the annual number of requests had dropped from 739 in 2010 to 523 in 2012. This was still a solid result for a small community like the Cayman Islands, and places the country amongst the highest per capita users of the right to access in the world.
However, this trend has now reversed itself, and in the course of the last financial year 2012-13 no less than 591 requests were logged into the central FOI tracking system, Jade, which is an increase of 13 percent over the previous year.
Because requestors don’t need to reveal the reason for their request, we do not know exactly why this upsurge happened, but it may very well be due to the national elections held in May. During the period leading up to the elections, the press and the general public kept an even closer eye on public expenditures and government accountability than usual, and Freedom of Information itself was seldom out of the news.
Outcomes of requests
Under the FOI Law, government can disclose information in full or in part, meaning that some information can be redacted. When appropriate, public authorities can also choose to apply a variety of exemptions and exceptions to withhold information.
Last year, the Information Commissioner’s Office reported that more and more of the requests under the FOI Law were being granted. In 2011-12, some 39 percent of requested information was disclosed in full, and another 16 percent was disclosed in part, up from the previous years. For instance, in 2009 only 33 percent was released in full and 11 percent in part.
However, in the last 12 months, outcomes were less positive for FOI requestors. Only 32 percent of requests resulted in full access, and another 15 percent in partial access being granted.
While this trend is regrettable, as we would like government to become more and more transparent, some variation in the results from year to year is to be expected, and the positive significance of these figures should not be overlooked: one in three FOI applicants gets full disclosure, and more than half of FOI applicants get what they asked for, at least in part.
In the end, it helps bearing in mind that we all have a role to play in making Freedom of Information successful and meaningful: applicants, by informing themselves about the Law and using it responsibly; information managers and other public officials, by understanding and applying the letter and intent of the Law; and the ICO, by resolving appeals and keeping a close eye on compliance.
These are just a few statistics from the ICO’s 2013 Statistics Report. The full report can be found on the website of the Information Commissioner’s Office www.INFOCOMM.ky.
If you have any questions about the FOI Law, contact [email protected].