It was so good to see Nat Hodge doing an editorial recently on the need for a Freedom of Information Act in
It is important to realise that it is not sufficient just to pass a law. We also have to take steps to make sure that it works.
Introducing FOI in a traditional colonial, secretive administration involves a change of culture. That is arguably the tallest order. The mere passing of a law does nothing to accomplish this change. FOI does not function at all in some countries. The emphasis may have been mistakenly put on the legislative process and not enough on the practical meaning and its implementation.
FOI is only as good as government’s underlying record keeping practices. If the information is not recorded or preserved in the first place, then the right is meaningless. How good is record keeping in the
The first step is a Public Records law. At least, there needs to be a serious update of the Standing Orders combined with an ongoing records management programme. There need to be standards, education, help and monitoring in relation to the management of public records. This is an absolute prerequisite for a successful FOI programme. This is usually a function of the national archives office, something that we have not even begun to think about in
How do you balance the right to access with the legitimate need to keep some things secret for the time being? Should the public interest override any or all exceptions? Should there be a right of appeal against decisions? What form should this take, and what powers should an appeal body have?
The Cayman law provided for the appointment of an “information manager” in each department and public authority. Two people were trained in each department to cover vacation and sick leave. These are the access points for the public.
Someone has to do a lot of preparatory work to make sure the system works. It is not only a matter of training the frontline people. There will be a need to hold special sessions for ministers, permanent secretaries, and other general staff. Some departments or public authorities may decide they need to hire new staff if they expect complicated requests for access. Some may actually hire a lawyer to be in charge of their record management/freedom of information units. Most will simply assign the dual duties to existing staff, revising their job descriptions and pay.
What do we do about personal information? What is ‘personal information’ in
The public and civil society should have a chance to provide input on each of these issues before a law is even drafted.
Writing the law is the easy part. Getting it to work is another matter.
But, even discussing it is a really important step if we are really serious about accountability and transparency in
Related previous posts:
24 May 2009 - Airport News
21 May 2009 - Airport Costs
19 July 2008 - FOI Act