I would like to respond to the editorial in the April 28 Cayman Compass (Freedom of Information: Ready for upgrade), in which you outline the problems the Compass has experienced recently with a number of requests for information, and question the abilities of information managers in general in dealing with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Law.
First of all, let me clarify that it is the Cabinet Office which is tasked with, and funded for, training information managers and providing case-specific advice, not the Information Commissioner’s Office. The FOI Unit in the Cabinet Office was specifically created and funded to provide support for information managers since the inception of the FOI Law in 2009 – and even before. The Unit did a stellar job in the initial years, but as staff members left and were not replaced, its attention and resources appear to have become gradually diluted in other directions, to the detriment of information managers and the important service they provide under the FOI Law.
Anecdotal evidence of many information managers’ inability to apply and interpret the Law correctly led to a strong suspicion that the legal requirements in the FOI Law which mandate information managers training were not being met and I raised the issue of training and support with the deputy governor, the Cabinet secretary and the chief officer of the Portfolio of the Civil Service in the first part of 2014, as an urgent priority for their attention.
The response I received was uniformly positive, but it was not clear when exactly steps would be taken to address the issue. A few months later, the Information Commissioner’s Office revisited this topic by conducting a survey of information managers and publishing a report and the survey data on our website (see: www.infocomm.ky/document-library).
As widely reported at the time, while most information managers were found to be competent and trained, the 2014 survey report found that far too many information managers had not been provided with training, had nowhere to turn for case-specific advice and lacked support from their own organizations’ senior management. As such, many information managers were essentially unable to meet their and their public authorities’ obligations under the FOI Law.
Since then, in the first three months of 2015, the Cabinet Office has made a credible effort to address the training gap by holding a number of general and focused training sessions for information managers and other public officers involved in administering FOI, with a total of 167 participants, in addition to 47 information managers trained on the use of the FOI tracking system and 19 participants in a special sensitization session at the Department of Immigration. I understand that steps are also under way to address the FOI Unit’s ability to provide specialist advice to information managers on an ongoing basis.
I hope that these positive steps indicate a renewed commitment to FOI on the part of the Cabinet Office and government at large, which I sincerely welcome. While acknowledging that individual problems remain, in the light of the Information Commissioner’s Office’s earlier nuanced survey findings, I think it is therefore not warranted to generalize that “information managers do not know the basic facts of compliance,” as the editorial implies.
When the FOI Law was unanimously passed in 2007, the Legislative Assembly committed to a long-term vision of the Cayman Islands as a jurisdiction where governmental accountability, transparency and public participation in national decision-making were recognized as fundamental principles of governance. Some years later, the accomplishment of these goals remains ongoing and challenging.
While we can disagree whether or how the FOI Law is “ready for upgrade,” as the editorial claims, in the meantime the Law is worthy of the full support and respect of all, and its objectives deserve to be defended.
Acting Information Commissioner