CIG is sending wrong message over FOI

| 24/09/2015 | 11 Comments
Cayman News Service

Jan Liebaers, Acting Information Commissioner

(CNS): The failure of government to fill the information commissioner’s post, the comments from the premier about the frivolous nature of some FOI requests and plans to merge the office with a the complaints commission are just some of the issues that the acting commissioner feels are undermining the advancement of information transparency in government. After more than six years of an active law, which is used extensively in Cayman, Jan Liebaers said that he would have expected a more transparent culture to have emerged by now. But he said the message from the top that FOI is not all that important is reflected in attitudes by government agencies towards requests.

On the eve of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ‘Right to Know Week’, Liebaers was quick to point out that many people working in government have embraced the law and follow it with enthusiasm. He said there are entities which have adopted a regime of transparency but the ones that have not are causing significant challenges for the ICO.

Speaking to CNS this week, the acting information commissioner said that, alongside the procedural problems that he continues to see, the failure of some agencies to cooperate with his office is making life very difficult. Liebaers revealed that it is not uncommon for him or the staff in his small office to make as many as ten requests to some managers to provide the kind of information the commission needs to undertake investigations, appeals and hearings.

The message that a culture of transparency makes things cheaper is not getting home to everyone in government but this was not surprising, Liebaers said.

“Government is sending mixed messages about access to information,” he noted. “On the one hand there is a lot of talk about transparency but the premier’s comments about FOI requests wasting people’s time, the failure to begin the recruitment process for a commissioner and the threatened merger send the wrong message.”

Liebaers also has concerns that some information managers are doing too many other jobs or are under-qualified and can’t cope, and he feared they are burying their heads in the sand regarding requests, hoping applicants will go away. The acting commissioner is concerned that that is exactly what is happening and during this year’s ‘Right to Know Week’ his office will be promoting the full rights people have under the law when they meet with problems getting access to the information they request.

“We still find many people do go away when they received a refusal from a government entity or when they are ignored,” he said, adding that the office would be pressing home the appeals procedure over the next week. “Applicants should not go away when they are ignored or receive a ‘no’ to their request without that being justified under the law.”

‘Right to Know Week’ will focus on pressing home the public’s right to most information and that, despite the high use of the law in Cayman, not everyone is getting access to what they ask for, not because they do not have the right but because in some cases they are being incorrectly denied and then not pursuing the information they wanted. Liebaers said the week would also focus on raising awareness about the information people can ask for and expect to receive.

The week begins with the ICO’s trip to the Sister Islands on Friday. Then, during the course of next week the five man ICO team will be at the HSA on Monday, and they will also be holding various stakeholder meetings as well as public promotion. There will be several articles published in the press and the team will be making radio and TV appearances. They will also be at the Government Administrative Building at the end of the week.

Check back to CNS next week for more information and this year’s statistics from the ICO and new initiatives being launched by the office.

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Category: Government oversight, Politics

Comments (11)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    A certain secret society rules the present Government, so one cannot expect full transparency as per FOI legislation. It’s going to get worse!!

  2. Just Watchin says:

    “We are the party that passed the Freedom of Information Law in 2007’ says the 2013 PPM manifesto.

    “This Law shall be reviewed from time to time by a committee of the Legislative Assembly appointed for that purpose. The first such review shall be conducted not later than eighteen months after the appointed day” says section 58 the FOI law. The law was passed in September 2007.

    So why hasn’t the Premier complied with the law, commissioned the review that should have been done from 2009 and addressed what he considers the issues with the law that lead to Mickey Mouse requests? I suggest that it’s because it’s classic Alden behaviour to take credit where he can and dodge the difficult matters as long as possible.

    I expect that their 2017 manifesto will be saying that they are the party that passed the Standards for Public Life Law too. But more than 18 months later, it still isn’t in effect. Passing it had its benefits though. That’s Al-done for you. But he ain’t seen Mickey Mouse requests yet.

  3. Anonymous says:

    My FOI are ignored all the time they are processed and do involve me but usually no response. My emails directly to officials are often ignored. Its a sad little island very unprofessional.
    I don’t see why I cant get a govt official to respond to direct questions. yes the questions are uncomfortable that I ask and usually involve some bad behavior but too bad I call it when I see it.
    I keep my letters very professional with no emotional out bursts What I find most disturbing is that I know the officials have opened my emails and how many times they have viewed them. Don’t they know computers can do that ?
    I hope sooner than later there is change for the better

    • Anonymous says:

      Spot on. Everyone who has had dealings with chief officers and senior civil servants will confirm that they are almost universally unprofessional and unresponsive when it comes to written communications.

      Never in the history of management and administration has so much been spent on so few to achieve so very, very, very little.

      It is truly pathetic.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Agree here with the ICO completely! Also; the Governors Office, Premier (past and present) many other MLA’s and many other high level CIG employees all do not want anyone to question anything they do or say. They just want the cushy job and all the perks / prestige that come with the job. “Good Governance” is mostly a soundbite!

  5. Anonymous says:

    One of the problems with FOI is that the Governor’s office, which should be setting an example, is just as bad as CIG. They’ve simply imported all the FCO’s resistance to FOIA in the UK and applied it the FOI Law.

    Despite all Mr Liebaer’s coments about CIG the only really serious on-going conflict over an information release is the Aina Report court case and to date the bill for that is around $1million. Most of that money, which could be better spent elsewhere, has been wasted on lawyers’ fees rather than dealing with any real FOI issues.

    • Anonymous says:

      One of the problems with the court case is that the ICO seem to have employed lawyers who knew nothing about FOI but were quite happy to take their money anyway. If you read the transcripts of the two hearings it’s a complete shambles.

  6. Anonymous says:

    If the top of the tree don’t bend, the rest of it wont either. Time for some leadership!! Oh, forgot where we are for a minute. Anywhere that lacks transparency is automatically suspect and in Caymans case, with all the financial services here, and especially after Webb, we can no longer afford this lackadaisical approach. Man up and embrace transparency with both arms CIG. And yes, some of you might suffer loss of income, but at the end of the day, its better than being arrested in the US or elsewhere, right? The arm of US law reaches a long way.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Like the private sector, every employee of CIG should have a signed employment contract which stipulates the responsibilities of that employee, code of conduct, and cause for dismissal. FOI and keeping accounts up to date must be made part of this binding contract at all levels. The department heads are just too comfortable in their cubbies and don’t see any reason to fight corruption short of some threat of termination. Bring it to them, and get all to sign it. It’s not rocket science. Should have been done years ago.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The politicians and senior Civil Service management couldn’t care less about the optics of this. The primary objective is to install a mirror where a glass pane should be.

    Transparency is the enemy of bad governance.

  9. Sammy Spade says:

    Well golly, you can’t expect CIG to make all the records public. It might come to light that there are things like theft and payola and nepotism etc, etc. Sh-h-h-h.

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