Lack of training cited in Freedom of Information review

Inadequate staffing also cited

A new report from the information commissioner shows that almost a quarter of all information managers, the people in each governmental unit responsible for Freedom of Information requests, have been on the job for less than a year and many have not had formal training.  

According to the report, about 15 percent of information managers say they cannot count on support from senior management and get access to records. The report states that the lack of training and information managers’ use of the national tracking system for FOI requests “are in clear contradiction with the legal requirements.” 

About 20 percent of the survey respondents reported never receiving formal training on FOI requests, though almost all attended a seminar hosted by the Information Commissioner’s Office.  

About 40 percent of information managers have been on the job for five years or more and about half say they get support from other staff and access to records. 

Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers, whose office produced the report, said information managers are “absolutely essential to making the FOI law work.” Of Cayman’s 143 information managers and their deputies, 90 replied to the anonymous survey conducted during Right to Know Week in late September. 

Mr. Liebaers’s office is in charge of hearing appeals and cannot give case-specific advice to information managers on what should be released under FOI. Direct advice on requests is supposed to come from the FOI Unit in the Cabinet Office, but Mr. Liebaers said the unit has not had a single staff member since July. The Cabinet Office, Mr. Liebaers said, has “over the last several years provided less and less attention to FOI.” 

Mr. Liebaers said, “New [information managers] have nowhere to turn to get trained or get case-specific advice on difficult cases, and that is unacceptable. I have made this point repeatedly over the last few months, and I have been promised that government is working on a solution, but so far I am not aware of what they have in mind.” 

Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose confirmed Tuesday that the FOI Unit has no staff. He added that “there is a need to urgently address issues such as ongoing training of FOI managers.” 

“The publication of the survey results is timely, as it will play a role in shaping FOI training plans presently being developed by the Cabinet Office,” he said. 

Petula Twinn, information manager for the Department of Immigration, said she did not know who to contact if she had a case-specific question. She said that the law was well written and she hasn’t had to worry about interpreting the law for specific FOI requests. 

Ms. Twinn’s department arguably fields the most information requests of any government unit, mainly people who want to request their own immigration files.  

According to the report, one-third of the information managers who responded have not been trained on how to use the Cabinet Office’s online tracking system for FOI requests, and only 60 percent use the system as required by law. Roughly half of information managers reported that FOI duties are not part of their official job description.