Info bosses take longer to respond as requests increase

| 27/09/2017 | 15 Comments

(CNS): The latest statistics from the Information Commissioner’s Office on the use of the Freedom of Information Law shows the number of requests made in 2016/17 increased by 21% on the previous year, which had seen a dramatic decline. But as the number of requests grew, the average time it took for information managers to respond also increased back up to 27 days, after a drop to just 21 during 2015/16.

But overall the statistics reveal some improving trends: the ICO is increasingly able to resolve appeals without a formal hearing and public authorities are generally releasing more rather than less information.

The latest figures have been published as part of this year’s Right to Know Day, which will be celebrated tomorrow by the ICO at the Government Administration Building.

In the statistical report by Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers, he points out that the implementation of the law in 2009 has led to greater openness and transparency within government. Since the law was enacted eight years ago, 5,180 requests have been made to dozens of government entities and around half of them were granted in part or full.

The authorities receiving the most requests have remained relatively constant over the last eight years, with the Department of Immigration constantly top the list, with the police, the HSA and labour department also consistently featuring in the top ten. But this year there was a surge in FOI requests to the Cayman Islands Fire Service, which received 32 requests during 2016/17 after receiving none at all in the previous twelve months.

The one area that remains frustrating for all users of the FOI law is the time it takes for entities to respond, particularly for journalists, whose readers are demanding instant answers and information. But information bosses are still dragging their feet and using the elements of the law that give them more time to delay responses.

While the FOI law requires that public authorities give their initial response “as soon as practicable” but not later than 30 calendar days after receiving, around 39% of requests were not answered in 2016/17 during that statutory time period. Just 22% of reports were answered in 10 days or less.

During the last 12 months, 41% of requests were granted in full and another 16% partially, while around a quarter were denied. Liebaers said that since the inception of the law, the proportion of requests granted in full or in part varied between a low of 44% in the first half of 2009 and a high of 55% in 2011/12.

He also revealed that 32 appeals were initiated in 2016/17, the second highest number of appeals ever received at the ICO, but there were only two hearings, which was an unusually low number. “We believe the low number of hearings was at least in part due to higher success rate in our informal resolution process,” he noted.

This will be the last report that is submitted by the ICO as an independent entity as it has now been absorbed into a supra-ombudsman’s office, which will also be incorporating civil service and police complaints.

The new office holder, Sandy Hermiston, started in the post last week. She will now have oversight of what was once the ICO and the Office of the Complaints Commissioner (OCC), as well as a new police complaints process and issues relating to data protection.

See the full statistical report in the CNS library

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Category: Government oversight, Politics

Comments (15)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    not enough penalty…so they brush everything off…shhh…dont tell anyone

  2. Anonymous says:

    “The one area that remains frustrating for all users of the FOI law is the time it takes for entities to respond” – You can say that about the entities as well. FOI is a pain in the neck. ‘Give me years worth of information on X.’ Takes hours of digging through records not categorized by X (because yeas ago we didn’t realize X would matter, so we organised our files by other metadata that we thought would be more useful) then you have to collate, check for personally identifiable information, etc. Heaven for-fend that several people might have related records, e.g., all emails related to X. But the real worst is that personally identifiable information, which then requires checking with the other parties about releasing it. Plus you’ve got to log all the FOI tracking so the FOI commissioner (who likes nothing else but making himself feel good by castigating Civil Servants who have better things to do with their time than dig through files for useless information) can make their reports.

    Save yourself time. Just ask your question. Because usually you want an answer, not a stack of records that don’t really answer your question, do you? Then if you don’t like the answer by all means FOI. But to FOI first means that yes you’ve already set yourself up for delay by relying on an adversarial system which is a pain in the neck to all concerned. Before filing an FOI remember that old joke posted in many offices: “What do you want me to do with the last rush job I was doing before you walked in with your rush job?”

    • Anonymous says:

      I once submitted ab FOI for a copy of a public authority board meeting minutes only to be fobbed off with sanitized statements from the information manager. This went on for a year before I gave up, which in retrospect I believe was their intent. Doesn’t fit the scenario you describe at all. Just how difficult would it be to supply those minutes?

      • Anonymous says:

        So, in an article about the FOI Commissioner tracking FOIs, your excuse is that you just stopped asking, instead of handing it off to the Commissioner? Sounds like the ‘sanitized statements’ was what they had and you’re just unhappy what you thought you’d find wasn’t actually there.

        • Anonymous says:

          You have made a baseless assumption that makes no sense. The poster clearly said the minutes were not supplied. Perhaps you should pursue a career as an information manager!

  3. Anonymous says:

    There is usually a delay to allow for a proper shredding of evidence.

    • Unison says:

      maybe so …

      Or, the old systems of recording and retrieving information for the FOI, needs upgrading … and government funding

      Have you ever thought about that ☺

  4. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if some of those requests are just disgruntles trying to revoke PRs that were just accepted. Cant have the person who we have been planning and having strategic meetings how to fire now become a resident here in Cayman. I mean, that person is only there for us to toy with and have fun with, how could she get PR status.

  5. Unison says:

    “The one area that remains frustrating for all users of the FOI law is the time it takes for entities to respond”

    Could it be some government entities need an upgrade in staff support and an upgrade on improving recording systems to provide accurate information in a timely manner?

    It makes no sense for the FOI to make requests that end up becoming vexatious requests and then send out reports about the entities, portraying them as if they are hiding something from the FOI.

    I think it takes the responsibility of the News media to stick to factual reporting on this matter. What is REALLY REALLY REALLY causing requests not to be answered or answered completely? No assumptions made ✌

  6. Anonymous says:

    If CIG department websites were up to date with the minimum transparent disclosure required by law, there would likely be fewer FOI requests, don’t ya think?

    • Anonymous says:

      Most are years out of date.

    • Anonymous says:

      No. Not based on the silly FOI’s I’ve received. e.g. ‘all records related to X’ shotgunned to several agencies as a fishing expeditions. If you have a question, just ask.

      • Anonymous says:

        1. Why are the websites of fully-staffed agencies years out of date?

        2. Why are there ANY CIG departments with failing grade financial records?

        Funny to you maybe…

  7. Anonymous says:

    One of the worst departments is Labour & Pensions. They are so inept and disorganized. Information that should be at the tip of their fingers is never available without them requesting a further 30 day extension. It happens every time. USELESS


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