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The Editor Speaks: Dark clouds looming

Colin Wilsonweb2I have been a supporter of most of this government’s running of the Cayman Islands affairs but one area I am deeply opposed is in the Freedom of Information (FOI). They want to combine the two departments of the Information Commissioner’s Office with the Complaints Commissioner’s office and include an independent police complaints office under a single super ombudsman.

The purpose of doing this makes no sense at all. Especially, as every commissioner and acting commissioner who have held these positions and know far more about it than any elected government official or civil servant, have strongly voiced their opposition.

The costs savings are negligible so why do it?

The only reason that makes any sense is because they do not like the efficiency of the two commissioners. They do not like answering a lot of the questions and neither does the Governor’s Office who even challenges their decisions with expensive lawyers being hired all at our expense.

This has been brought to notice by Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers Right to Know Week when he warned “there may be some dark clouds on the FOI horizon, some of which are already dropping a few raindrops on our heads”.

And it is government information managers who are taking longer to respond to freedom of information requests. They now fall outside the requirement of the law.

I have not heard any government member not the Acting Governor make a statement condemning this delaying trend and saying they are taking any steps what-so-ever in rectifying it.

As a story in CNS said, “In an ironic twist the PPM administration, which introduced the legislation, has boasted about a more transparent style of governance at a time when accessing information about the public sector is getting harder.”

Liebaers said, “The number of requests made to government is rising steadily, and the Press is overflowing with important stories on subjects such as the quality of public education, the justice system, hiring and employment practices, gun ownership, to name but a few. These issues would be all but impossible to write or research without FOI. Hundreds of other, more personal stories never reach the front pages, but are equally important to the persons who need answers from their government and – in many cases- have a right to know, thanks to FOI.”

Then he bemoans:

The Information Commissioner’s Office has remained without an appointed Information Commissioner for almost two years, and there is no indication when, or even if, a new Commissioner will be named. This is not a ceremonial position, but one that involves the judicious exercise of significant power, crucial to the overall operation of the FOI regime. While I think it is fair to say that the ICO team and I have done a credible job in the last 21 months, the absence of an appointed Commissioner undermines the workings and credibility of the ICO and the Law. For instance, because the office is so small this single, critical vacancy greatly impedes the ICO’s capacity to conduct proactive compliance investigations, thus allowing greater leeway to government in how it chooses to handle requests for access.

“The FOI Law itself has been in the news more than expected in the last year, not least because of the plans of the Cabinet to amalgamate the ICO with a number of other oversight bodies. In my opinion these plans are ill-conceived at best. The general public, the ICO and the Office of the Complaints Commissioner deserve better. The independence of the oversight bodies should not be encroached upon, and what little (if any) savings could result from this scheme is surely not worth the risk of undermining the trust which the public has cautiously invested in us over so many years. In the end it will be for the lawmakers to decide whether and how to amend the FOI Law and the principles that underpin it, but I would ask that, before any changes are made, each of us carefully consider the important democratic rights that are invested in the Freedom of Information Law: government openness, accountability and public participation in decision making.”

I applaud Jan Liebaers for saying this. He is a brave man and has probably done his cause no good at all in becoming the Super Ombudsman.

I urge the public to make their view known to government and support the Acting ICO. It is the only way government will take notice. Votes count and they will need everyone especially now they have divided the country up with their promise to go ahead with the Cruise Berthing Facility.

I am afraid dark clouds are looming ahead for this government.


  1. Mr. Editor I hope the thoughts in this blogpost may give ideas for an interesting editorial, for which you are uniquely qualified to produce.


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