The number of Freedom of Information requests has dropped to the lowest point since the FOI Law took effect in Cayman on 5 Jan. 2009.
Last year, only 403 applications were made for the disclosure of public information held by government entities.
This compared to 510 and 712 requests in 2018 and 2017, respectively. And it was just one below the previous lowest figure in 2016, according to statistics from government’s central tracking system, JADE, released by the Office of the Ombudsman.
The annual Freedom of Information statistics report highlighted that despite the decline in the number of requests, response times have increased from an average of 20 days in 2016 to 30 days in 2019.
Under the FOI Law, public-sector entities must generally respond to FOI requests within 30 days. But in almost half of last year’s applications for information disclosure, it took the government longer than 30 days to respond, compared to 37% in 2017. In 21.9% of cases, it took the government entity more than 60 days to respond.
“This is an area we would like to see government improve in, as it’s taking more than 30 days to respond in 47 per cent of the FOI requests government received last year,” said Deputy Ombudsman Jan Liebaers in a press release marking International Right to Know Day on 28 Sept.
“We also encourage government entities to release information proactively on their websites, rather than wait for an FOI request to be made.”
In 2019, those disclosures included information on food inspections, the proposed cruise berthing facility, importation of endangered species, environmental issues, school inspections and employment issues.
The vast majority of FOI requests, 82, was directed at Workforce Opportunities & Residency Cayman, followed by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service with 39 applications.
“Although responding to FOI requests is the duty of every public sector agency, the Office of the Ombudsman – as the entity that handles appeals in FOI matters – has a keen interest in seeing that this process works and remains fair both to applicants seeking information and to government entities,” said Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston in the press release.
“A record number of FOI appeals was decided by the Ombudsman last year, an indication that this important tool is being used to ensure transparency in government decision-making in our society,” she said.
In 2019, only 41% of FOI requests were granted in full, while another 27% resulted in the partial disclosure of information. A third of all applications was denied.
The government cited exemptions under the law as the reason for the denial in most of these cases. Only 4% of requests were refused for reasons other than explicit legal exemptions.
Since inception of the FOI Law, the government has received more than 6,300 open records requests and has disclosed public information in roughly two-thirds of those cases.
Anyone who wants to appeal FOI decisions should contact the ombudsman’s office at 946-6283 or email [email protected].