Ministry shows ‘blatant disregard’ for FOI

| 26/04/2016 | 16 Comments

Cayman News Service(CNS): The Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs has been heavily criticised by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and reported to the deputy governor regarding a freedom of information request for records relating to national pensions that took more than a year. Acting Commissioner Jan Liebaers said the ministry’s response to the applicant was reluctant and slow and it failed to cooperate with his office. He described the way the ministry handled the request as a “veritable litany” of how not to conduct a search for responsive records, to respond to an FOI request and cooperate with the ICO.

“It shows what can only be described as a blatant disregard for the law,” Liebaers said, adding that it had “resulted in wasting incalculable hours and days” of the information manager’s, the applicant’s and the ICO’s time.

The commissioner criticised the ministry for trying to stretch the law and for how it applied its exemptions, but the main concerns related to efforts to look for the records and the piecemeal release of documents.

“There can be no doubt that the ministry was grossly lacking,” Liebaers said in one of his most scathing decisions to date. “They did not appear to have conducted a proper analysis of the request, did not understand the scope of the search that was required, and did not execute the search with an appropriate level of rigour and efficiency to yield meaningful responsive records until exceedingly late in the process and upon the urging of the applicant and the ICO.”

Liebaers added that it was “hard to imagine” how records involved in a current legislative review could be “so hard to find if any credible effort is made to locate them, unless the record keeping systems being relied upon are unfit for purpose”.

The ministry’s response, he said, was “unacceptable, verging on a complete denial of the applicant’s rights and an obstruction of the process required under the FOI Law”, which were “systemic” and urgently need to be addressed.

In the 30-page ruling the commissioner did exempt some records but ordered others to be released, as he addressed some of the errors made by the ministry in their obvious efforts to stop the release of records. He slammed the ministry for trying to stretch exemptions beyond the meaning in the law, which he said was an unwittingly implication that the records were not likely to be exempt.

At one point the ministry had also claimed that disclosure would confuse the public over the policy direction of pension legislation, but Liebaers said, “I am not aware of any exemption under the law that protects the general public from being confused by the disclosure of records held by government.”

The commissioner directed that several documents needed to be released but others, he agreed, could be exempted because they constituted free and frank discussion. However, he also ordered the ministry to go back and look for more records as questions remained about the completeness of the search more than 400 days after the FOI request was first made.

ICO Decision 46, Education Ministry re National Pension Law, 21 April 2016

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Comments (16)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    What was the role of the Chief Officer Christen Suckoo? The report says he did not complete an Internal Review as the FOI law requires. It does not say what he did or did not do to help or hinder this process afterwards. It sounds like the information manager was left to sort this out. The ICO had no hesitation in blaming other chief officers by name before.

  2. Anonymous says:

    FORGET the Dept of Labour and Pensions. I have been trying to get mine transferred for 2 years and have just decided to give up. They are incredibly incompetent. “just be patient”.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ask them who gave them the legal authority to hold your pension hostage. They do it quick when you mention lawyers.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Why am I not surprised? This ministry is NOTORIOUS for half truths, misinformed reports etc. Even doctoring a report with no consequence. Horrible .. and they wonder why the schools are such a mess!

  4. Anonymous says:

    This is just what is expected of the Cayman Islands ministries. This is what they have been(according to past history), this is what they are (according to recent history) and it is what they will always be. The really pathetic thing is the people in charge who think that they will change on their own to what they should be in this life time. They can’t be held accountable because that would be culturally unacceptable here. They are the best this island can come up with so there is no plan B other than a UK take over and the UK is too smart to put their feet into that steaming pile of responsibility. Other countries have high taxes. Cayman has high ignorance. Just watch where you are stepping while here (do as little as possible with anything to do with local government) and you will be fine.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately Ministers have no control over their ministries! It is the chief officers and other civil servants who are running the show and say how things go. If they don’t like to do something, it won’t get done, if they don’t like the current minister, they are not going to follow their lead. …………and unfortunately, Ministers are very, very reluctant to root out the ones who should be rooted out. And we all know why!

    • Anonymous says:

      Ultimately then the “buck stops” with Franz Manderson. He is in charge of the Civil Service and the Chief Officers. He is the one that is permitting them to do as they please or not do as the case maybe.

      • Need a toy drone says:

        And Christen Sukoo is one of Franz Mandersons puppets so do you really think anything is going to happen in regards to this disgraceful act of being an obstructionist???? You stand a better chance of Cayman winning gold at the Rio games in the summer. When a ministry can allow gratuities to be used to pay minimum wage then anything and everything is possible. NO department that falls under this Ministry is being productive……

        • Anonymous says:

          Christen suckoo is nobody’s puppet and he is no pushover either.

        • Perry says:

          The days of civil servants not been held accountable is over. Ask the 15 civil servants who were fired last year about improved accountability. The DG and Chief Officer will deal with this matter.

  6. Just Watchin says:

    No surprise here. Mary Rodriguez trained them well.
    And Franz hand-picked her to lead the civil service into the future so the Acting Information Commissioner should bark up another tree.

  7. Sunshine says:

    Yep. We have freedom of information, but information that may adversely affect certain politicians is somehow unavailable.

  8. Leila says:

    Yup, they don’t want to give out any information; been trying to find out about my pension now for over 6 months. Can’t even get a phone call back from the Ministry!

    Is everyone a thief on this island now?

    • Anonymous says:

      Maybe try calling the Pension office instead then?

      If you mean a pension fund that is a result of private sector employment then I’m sure the Department of Labour and Pension would be more effective than calling the Ministry would.

      • Leila says:

        Oh, think you’re smart by stating the obvious; they told me to contact the Ministry! You go figure. OKAY?

        And it’s not private sector, I worked for Government smart-a$$!

    • Anonymous says:

      I think there may be a guy in Northside that doesn’t have a conviction.

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