The future of the Cayman Islands depends on its citizens being knowledgeable, proactive and prepared to take part in their own governance. An important mechanism to make sure this vision becomes a reality is the Freedom of Information Law (2009).
Under this law any member of the public may request any public record held by Government with some exceptions.
Between 5 January, 2009, when the law took effect, and 30 June, 2012, 90 public authorities received 2318 information requests. These ranged from individuals wishing to access information about themselves held by Government, to persons asking for more details concerning significant national events than had previously been made public.
The application process is a simple one and there are many resources to help along the way.
Requesting public records
Anyone, regardless of how old they are, where they are from, or where they work, may request a public record.
A specially trained Information Manager will help the agency deal with the request. IMs are required to help applicants by identifying the types of records held by their part of Government, and to generally assist the person who is seeking information.
Requests must be in writing (emails are accepted) and should include some basic details to help the IM easily respond.
A name (This can be a pseudonym);
An email or postal address. Phone numbers are optional.
As much information as possible about the record, or information that the person is seeking, e.g. the name or description of a document, the dates relevant to the information that is being sought, etc.; and,
The form of access preferred - e. g. electronic or photocopy.
IMs must acknowledge the request within 10 days of receipt. Within 30 days of making a request, applicants should either receive the record requested, or be given a reason (under the FOI Law) why it has not been made available.
Government authorities are required to keep accurate records and whilst every effort is made to fulfil FOI requests, some requests may be turned down if they are deemed to be vexatious, repetitive, or to place an undue burden on the resources of the authority.
In formulating their requests, applicants may find it useful to refer to an authority’s publication scheme. This document includes information about what each agency does as well as the records it holds. It is usually available on an authority’s website or in a printed format in its offices. A master list of all publication schemes is also found on the ICO website, www.infocomm.ky.
The role of the Information Commissioner
Applicants who are denied access to a record, or do not receive the information that they require within 30 days, may ask for an internal review of the decision. This will be carried out by a more senior officer of the public authority and completed in another 30 days.
If the applicant remains dissatisfied with the information they have received, or how their request has been handled, they have the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner, Jennifer Dilbert.
The ICO is committed to ensuring that appeals are dealt with quickly and fairly. During the initial investigation, the ICO will contact the public authority to establish the facts and resolve the situation amicably if possible. (Applicants may remain anonymous throughout the appeals process.)
If the matter is not resolved during the investigation, a formal hearing may be held. This is usually a written hearing, where applicants may, if they choose, make submissions to the Information Commissioner as to why they believe they should have access to the records in question.
As this article suggests, the work of embedding a culture of openness and transparency at the heart of Government’s operations is still in progress. It can also take applicants longer than expected to find the answers they are seeking. Yet it is unquestionable that FOI has already begun to shine a useful light on the inner workings of government and that mechanisms are in place to ensure that this continues for future generations as well.
Members of the public have an important role to play in this process by proactively seeking to inform themselves and their families about what Government does and the way that it works.
For more information about making an FOI request, interested persons should call 747-5402.