Cabinet Office Supports ICO
Cabinet Secretary Orrett Connor has the utmost confidence that Information Commissioner (IC) Jennifer Dilbert will be able to utilise her extensive experience of the Civil Service to achieve the best possible outcomes in her new position.
In comments following a press release by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) warning of the possibility of delays in processing Freedom of Information (FOI) appeals, Mr Connor empathized with Ms Dilbert and her staff as they face the challenges that afflict all Government departments, such as extremely limited resources.
"Early days are always difficult. Establishing a new office may involve looking for accommodations, refurbishing, advertising, re-advertising and hiring the right staff to do the work. I can understand that it is hard to feel comfortably settled while still experiencing growing pains. On behalf of the Cabinet Office, I would like to say that we appreciate their work thus far and look forward to the great things that ICO will accomplish when it becomes fully operational in the very near future,' he remarked.
Having spent some three years developing the FOI initiative, the Cabinet Secretary said that his office has a personal stake in its success and hence that of the ICO. Following the announcement in late 2007, that the law would take effect in January 2009, the Cabinet Office and the FOI Implementation Unit worked to seek public input in the IC recruitment process and to ensure the independence of the post. From mid-2008, the two agencies worked to prepare the ICO for a January start, including: seeking approval for four support staff, securing office accommodations and purchasing a suite of office equipment and computers for five persons. The total budget for the ICO was also set at KYD 659,000 for the 2008/2009 fiscal year. Mrs Dilbert was able to offer considerable input on these matters following her appointment in November 2008. While the Cabinet Office also initiated recruitment of an office manager, it was agreed that the Information Commissioner when appointed would be personally involved in the recruitment of more senior positions. As the ICO press release notes, there are now three full-time staff in place, including Mrs Dilbert and her deputy, and the office is in the process of recruiting two more posts to bring it up to its full complement.
Stating that the challenges outlined by his colleague can be overcome if agencies continue to work closely together, Mr Connor added: 'The IC's role is important to our ongoing improvements in good governance, and we must support them in every way that we are able. Accordingly, we are very grateful to the British Columbia Privacy Commissioner's Office for allowing the IC to temporarily recruit two of its staff members. It is also important to acknowledge the considerable work that the FOI Implementation Unit has done behind the scenes to ensure that the process of making a FOI request goes as smoothly as possible, thereby easing the workload of the IC," he adds.
Government has processed 360 FOI requests since January. More than 95% of responses have been provided within the 30 day timeframe allowed by law-- the average response time being less than 20 days. The ICO was established to ensure compliance with the law. After six months of operation there have been a total of 21 appeals. Although some have been mediated and others sent back to public authorities for internal review, the office is scheduled to conduct its first hearing soon.
The Cabinet Secretary concluded: "While it is normal to expect some teething issues, especially with such a significant whole-of-government initiative such as FOI, we are generally very pleased with everyone's performance thus far. At the same time, we are doing what is necessary to monitor our progress and make the necessary improvements and adjustments to move forward. At present the FOI unit and the ICO are carefully documenting problems that arise to ensure these are addressed to the best of everyone's ability and to the public's satisfaction."