Jan Liebaers, Acting Information Commissioner, writes: The Information Commissioner’s Office has just finished another annual celebration of Right to Know Week, with events from 26 September to 3 October 2016. Every year 28 September is observed around the world as International Right to Know Day to raise awareness of the right to access government records and information, and show support for government openness, transparency and accountability.
In the Cayman Islands these rights and objectives are enshrined in the Constitution and embodied in the Freedom of Information Law.
In the past week the ICO hosted events for the general public, the media, public servants and high school students in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac in order to highlight FOI and encourage individuals to know and use their rights under the Law. These included presentations, workshops, meet-and-greets, and the publication of the ICO’s Annual Statistics Report.
Even as the FOI Law has been in effect for almost eight years, promoting the information rights of individuals remains an important and unfinished task. To our surprise, every year we encounter individuals who have never even heard of Freedom of Information, and may not be aware they hold these rights:
- the right to request any recorded information held by government, and obtain it if it is not exempted;
- the right to receive an acknowledgment of your request within 10 days, and a full response within 30 days;
- if a public authority withholds anything you asked for, the right to be given reasons under the Law;
- if access is denied, the right to obtain an internal review by the responsible Chief Officer; and,
- if you are not satisfied, or suspect that the Law has not been applied correctly, the right to contact the Information Commissioner and appeal.
This year our theme for Right to Know Week was “It’s Yours, Just Ask!” We decided to re-use this same theme to once again emphasise that government works for the people, and that information held by public authorities should be open and accessible either proactively or upon request – unless the information is exempted for legitimate, limited reasons identified in the Law.
The ICO’s Statistics Report shows some remarkable changes from the previous year. The number of requests decreased by more than 40%, while the overall response times and proportion of requests granted in full or in part increased significantly.
Individual experiences may vary, and these results are only as good as the tracking system that is used by information managers, which we have noted has some weaknesses. Nonetheless, government is to be commended for improved response times and greater openness, and we look forward to continued improvements in the coming year.
As widely reported, a number of big changes are afoot in the coming year. The merger of the ICO into a larger Ombudsman’s Office aims to change the governance of government oversight, including FOI. However, the basic principles of the FOI Law and the rights it grants are not expected to change.
This may be the last year that a separate (acting) information commissioner leads the celebration of Right to Know Week, but this time next year we will no doubt once again reflect upon and celebrate our information rights, which by then likely will be strengthened by a Data Protection Law.
In the meantime, the ICO and I continue to work to ensure that the FOI Law is applied correctly, and that all parties, both individuals and government officials, are aware of their rights and obligations, and know where to turn for further information.
Remember: “It’s Yours, Just Ask!”
For more on FOI, the Right to Know Week schedule, and the Annual Statistics Report please see: www.infocomm.ky