MLA ‘climbing backwards’ on open records process

East End member of the Legislative Assembly Arden McLean said Friday that he feels like he is “climbing a lime tree backwards” in trying to get answers about the government’s open records application process.

Finance Minister Marco Archer clarified that Mr. McLean’s comment was “just a figure of speech.”

Mr. McLean said he was seeking to clarify precisely what types of training is conducted for government information managers, who are responsible for answering Freedom of Information requests.

“Are [information managers] trained to utilize one month to answer questions and then ask for an extension and then provide [the information] on the last day of the second month?” Mr. McLean asked.

“We’re not trained to do that,” Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose answered.

“I really didn’t think so, but I need to say it publicly,” Mr. McLean said. “Why is it that every time you ask for information, they ask for an extension? And then, on the last day, they do it?” Mr. McLean said. “And I mean at five o’clock in the evening too, you know.”

Mr. Rose said that open records statistics could be provided to Mr. McLean that would show general response times on FOI requests.

“In my office’s case, I know there are many FOI requests that are responded to long before the deadline,” Mr. Rose said.

The Cayman Islands Freedom of Information Law, 2007, allows anyone to request records from the government or its associated entities.

The law sets out a time line of 30 calendar days within which any public entity must respond to the request. If the request is refused or deferred, the government must provide their reasons to the applicant for the information.

The government can also request another 30 calendar days if it requires more time to compile records needed for the request.

If the application for information is unsuccessful, the person seeking the records can appeal to the chief officer or agency director for reconsideration and can eventually move to an appeals process before the information commissioner.

In Mr. McLean’s personal request for information, he sought to appeal to the chief officer of the works ministry after government extended the time limit for his request for another 30 days. The East End MLA said he got the information he sought “at 5 p.m. on the 60th day” after making the initial request.

His request for internal review to the chief officer was never answered, he said, although according to the FOI Law, an appeal or review of a request could not be heard while the original request was still being considered.

The issue of how long it takes government agencies to respond to FOI requests has been a vexing one for the information commissioner’s office and its acting commissioner, Jan Liebaers. Mr. Liebaers has said the 30-day time line for FOI responses is the time within which those responses must be received, not a preferred goal for the information managers to meet.

Mr. Liebaers also noted that the more records government makes public on its own, the fewer FOI applications it will have to spend time answering.

“Proactive publication is a positive by-product of any Freedom of Information regime,” he said.