FOI requests fall to lowest level

| 25/09/2020 | 9 Comments
Cayman News Service

(CNS): Whether it is because government has made more documents available or because the process of making a freedom of information request is increasingly burdensome, the number of requests made for public records last year fell to its lowest ever level. From a high of 739 the year after the law was implemented, requests fell to 403 in 2019, according to a statistical report from the ombudsman, well below the annual average. Request numbers have fluctuated over the years but have averaged around 631 and have only fallen to just over 400 once before, in 2016.

The report makes no comment about the decline but in a press release marking Right to Know Day, which takes place on 28 September, the Office of the Ombudsman celebrated the fact that 6,317 requests have been made to public authorities since the law was enacted over a decade ago.

But although public authorities have had more than a decade to get used to the law, in 2019 close to half of all FOI requests took longer than 30 days and almost 22% of responses took two months or more. Deputy Ombudsman Jan Liebaers noted that responses to requests take too long.

“This is an area we would like to see government improve in,” Liebaers said. “We also encourage government entities to release information proactively on their websites, rather than wait for an FOI request to be made.”

The report revealed little change in which departments receive the most requests. Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman (WORC), previously the immigration department, received 82 requests last year, the most of any government entity, as has been the case every year since the law was enacted. That was followed by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service with 39 and the Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, Agriculture and Lands at 26.

Most requests are still made by individuals seeking their own personal records. But important requests continue to be made by ordinary people, activist groups and the press to seek out documents that have a broader public interest.

CNS has been a regular user of FOI but we have noticed that requests now take longer. Public authorities almost always, in our experience, use up their full time to respond and more often than not seek an extension, usually without any real explanation or justification, before going on to deny the request in any event.

“We believe that the additional step of an internal review after a request has been denied merely adds to the already long time that request take, because in all of the request we have made, not once has a chief officer who undertook a review of a refused request went on to grant it,” CNS reporter Wendy Ledger stated, “The internal review becomes just another delay before we are able to appeal a refused request.”

She added, “We really welcome this law and the change of culture it ushered in — that public records should be just that. But for a news organisation FOI requests can be really frustrating. We often make requests because a public authority has refused to answer media inquiries on a topical issue. But if it takes six months to get a document, if you get it at all, it defeats the purpose.”

Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston said in the release from her office that a record number of hearings ended up at her office last year, despite the lowest ever number of FOI requests. She said that this was an indication that this important tool is being used to ensure transparency in government decision-making in our society.

But it is also clear that some authorities are still focused on finding reasons to withhold information rather than seeking ways to release it.

See the report in the CNS Library.


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Category: Government oversight, Politics

Comments (9)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    If the performance of Cayman Islands Civil Service equates to “milk & honey” then the “milk” I get is sour and the “honey” has pesticides in it!! Franz needs to go!

    – Born and bred Caymanian and retired public service officer who worked diligently for almost 40 years for the pension I now receive but was glad to get out of the inefficient, unaccountable and corrupt system!!

    BTW, as I’m not covered by CINICO, I pay the same health insurance percentages as private sector, so I’m not riding any gravy train.

  2. Neverwannabeacivilservant says:

    7.23am You are dead right all civil servants live in a land of milk and honey.Free medical treatment for life, subsidised pensions topped up every year for cost of living increases, no accountability for poor performance, jobs for life and so on.
    Where do you get your statistics on phone calls and e mails they are pure fantasy as we all know.Unfortunately you and many of your colleagues live in a world of make believe, as well as milk and honey.
    Remember a key fact, this country spends more per capita on it’s civil service than almost any other nation on this planet.

  3. Say it like it is says:

    5.42pm Do you seriously believe the Governor is responsible for this?. If he is then he should sack Mr Manderson, who runs the Civil Service.

  4. Anonymous says:

    No laws can survive a corrupt system. Here in Cayman all laws are just suggestions if your powerful enough to get away with it. Everyone knows this.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Whether we have a right to know or not is plainly irrelevant. Any attempt to enforce that right is so damaging to anyone that tries to persist once any barrier is raised, is ill conceived. Enforcement of rights are so devoid of effective remedy, it is simply not worth it. Only the insane would try to push the issue of access to information, especially if their identity risks becoming known.

  6. Neverwannabeacivilservant says:

    The reason for the drop in requests is that Govt/Civil Service who receive most of them never answer them or take for ever to provide a report made meaningless by redactions. If a third of ALL e mails addressed to the Civil Service never get answered it’s hardly surprising.

    • Anonymous says:

      A third are not answered when you ask for easy stuff. 99% are not answered when you ask anything hard, and even then the response is often “make an FOI request.”

      The governor grins and tells us about all the good governance he is responsible for. Sorry sir, I am calling bullshit!

      • Proudcivilservant says:

        Rubbish 5:42 and 2:36. If an FOI is not answered the Ombudsman would be called in. Obviously that no longer the case.

        The reason the number of FOI’s are down is because we have the best run Government in the region if not the world.

        84% of all emails answered and 93% of the over 7,000 calls to the GAB answered is a staggering achievement for any Government.

        Remember a key reason persons are flocking to Cayman is because of the efficiency of Government.

        We will live in the land of milk and honey. Time to accept that.

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