FOI law ‘critical’, says premier

| 19/06/2015 | 13 Comments
Cayman News Service

Alden McLaughlin, Cayman Islands Premier, in the Legislative Assembly

(CNS): Despite his recent criticisms of what he termed “Mickey Mouse” requests under the freedom of information legislation, the premier has confirmed his support of the law, which he described as “critical”. But Alden McLaughlin said he still had concerns that the system was being abused by some requesters. He said this hampered the ability of public servants to respond to the volume of requests in the timeframe set out in the law as and urged people to be more thoughtful about the requests they make.

He said that access to public records was a very important part of the transparency process in government and he was still an advocate of the principle law.

“I still think it is one of the most critical things we have done,” he told CNS. The law was enacted during the 2005-09 PPM administration and the legislation recently received top marks in an international review.

However, the premier stood by his recent comments in Finance Committee when he pointed to “Mickey Mouse” requests, echoing sentiments expressed by McKeeva Bush when he was in the premier’s job and he railed against anonymous requests.

While Bush, now opposition leader, had threatened to charge people for FOI applications and to remove the right to anonymity, the anticipated changes to the legislation, which the premier expects will be brought to the Legislative Assembly before Christmas, do not include those changes.

Although supportive of the principle of the legislation, the premier said he was still concerned about the diversion of resources because, from a government standpoint, dealing with FOI requests does not advance the government’s day to day productivity. Indicating its importance in terms of transparency and good governance, he said that did not alter the daily reality that the sheer volume of requests was diverting resources.

If staff were dealing with a smaller number of important and legitimate applications, he said, and not dealing with significant numbers of nonsense requests, which sometimes appeared to be deliberately targeted to disrupt government, it wouldn’t be a problem. But the premier said government was faced with the challenge of trying to find the resources to deal with numerous trivial applications.

“We have got to find a way to screen out the nonsense,” he said, adding that whatever requests came in, staff had to be diverted to review and then react to all of them, regardless of the nature of the application.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has, since the inception of the law, spoken about the need for proactive publication and better record keeping as a way to address the problem of diverting resources and getting bogged down in FOI battles.

Both the current and previous commissioners have indicated that it requires a lot less resources to publish and release and it is the tendency of governments in general to not want to release information that creates the problem. Time is wasted in trying to keep documents under wraps instead of taking the position that everything should be publicly accessible unless there is justification for classifying documents, rather than the other way round.

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Category: Government Finance, Laws, Politics

Comments (13)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Every request is an opportunity to improve the day to day operations by looking at ways to utilize technology so that the same types of requests can be easily available to the public going forward.

  2. johnathon says:

    so its critical that someone at my work place put in a freedom of information request on me to discover. my qualifications, scores at a recent promotion. my background history. wage I was given etc etc. its disgusting in some cases. people are on witch hunts and the people at the top need training to spot this foolishness and release information that is really relevant to issues and the well being of the country etc.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Alden and his calculating minions know that their arbitrarily denied FOIs cannot be appealed so long as the leadership of OCC and ACC remain in limbo. For six months the future of these offices have been unsettled – probably by design. Proof is in the pudding Mr Transparency.

  4. Rp says:

    Alden, what’s Mickey Mouse to you is not Mickey Mouse to me.

    To give you a perfect example, the Legge drama is Mickey Mouse to me but clearly it’s not Mickey Mouse to you.

  5. Joe B says:

    Alden will go done in history as the Caymanian Premier who knew what the right thing to say was but still couldn’t get himself to do it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like either the Governor or someone from the FCO took him on one side and told him to stop being such an XXXX.

  7. You can't handle the truth says:

    PPM and previous governments, can you all just stop sliding around the immediate issues that are affecting the Cayman Islands right now? For starters, that huge environmental health-hazard mountain of stinking garbage-dump that cruise visitors are greeted with as the cruise ships they’re on pull in to George Town Harbour. I mean the thing is in full-view and it’s disgusting. What about the cost of living and unemployment, proper public transportation? etc etc.

    jeez man….. You guys are politicians for real: talk talk talk, promise promise promise, but no action, none, zero, zilch, zip! Cayman remains the same as it’s been for the last 8 years: the merchant-class rich get richer and the paycheck to paycheck worker-man gets poorer. All the while the mountain of trash gets taller. Nothing has changed for the betterment of these Islands, nothing!

    Freedom of Information legislation, Whoop-de-do.. “it is one of the most critical things we have done.” Really?? in 2005-2009??

    Puh-leease, over 95 countries around the world have implemented some form of freedom of information legislation. Sweden’s FOI has been around since 1766 for Pete’s sake.

    Now get off your high-horse, stop awarding yourselves every month for menial, dare I say ‘accomplishments’ and get to work. That’s what the people of the Cayman Islands are paying you to do… work, not talk.

  8. SSM345 says:

    Full transparency, information being publicly given regularly etc will kill those frivolous requests. Simple.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Proactively publish as much information as you can, and there will be very little need for FOI requests. The problem is that every government wants to hide unflattering information from the public, and the more you try to hide the more people with ask……

    • Anonymous says:

      Agreed! Just follow the ICO’s suggestions and pro-actively publish (online also) much of the information that Govt. tries to keep hidden.

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