Freedom of Information Law Coming

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Published 11th October 2005, 11:46am

Government will within the next few months be proposing a law that allows members of the public access to official records, Leader of Government Business the Hon. Kurt Tibbetts has told the Legislative Assembly. Presenting Government's policy statement on the 2005/6 Budget Monday, 10 October, Mr. Tibbetts said that the process towards such legislation began last week when Cabinet approved a 'Bill for a Law to give the Public a General Right of Access to official Documents'. Mr. Tibbetts' announcement of the pending bill came as he detailed a range of measures to be taken by Government and which are supported in the budget during the current financial year. Guided by the outcome goals of the Strategic Policy Statement, the action to be taken range from continued hurricane recovery, fighting crime, improving education and training, rebuilding the health services, to devising a plan for traffic control, developing the Sister Islands, and supporting family and community. The Leader of Government Business announced a package of proposed new laws and amendments to current legislation to support the Government initiatives. He said the 'Access to Information Bill' is being circulated for comment, and after 90 days it will be brought to the Legislative Assembly. "This is part of Government's freedom of information initiative," he said. "Although it is called a Bill for a Law to give to the public a General Right of Access to official Documents, let it be known that this is the long-awaited freedom of information bill". Labelling his first budget address since becoming head of government following the May general elections 'Delivering on Promises', Mr. Tibbetts highlighted speedy recovery from the effects of Hurricane Ivan as the overriding, immediate and most pressing goal of Government. The budget provides for a total of $36.5 million for a variety of activities in this area. Mr. Tibbetts, who was delegated Cabinet responsibility for Hurricane Ivan recovery, pointed out that among the areas slated for financial injection are individual hurricane relief assistance and housing repair, to which goes $2.9 million that will be distributed through District Assistance Committees. The Cayman Islands Development Bank will be disbursing an additional $1.6 million of relief funds, and $500,000 goes to the National Recovery Fund. The National Cultural Foundation also gets $500,000 for repairs to the Harquail Theatre. Maintenance and reconstruction of roads and seawalls get $7.3 million. Disaster preparedness gets $1.3 million, which will fund the Emergency Management Agency. "The EMA will coordinate all national disaster preparedness and response activity for the country. Legislation is now being drafted to give statutory effect to this agency," Mr. Tibbetts said. He said that addressing crime is Government's second priority, and the budget provides for new or expanded policy actions on this issue. "The most important of these involves a significant increase in the resources available to the Royal Cayman Islands Police, including a $4.75 million increase in outputs [services], and a further $3.9 million in equity injections to fund new assets required for crime-fighting activities." "Improving the quality of education and, particularly, improving the educational infrastructure of the country is the third key priority for the PPM Government. Much of this will be done within existing resources, and significant reprioritisation within existing operating funding levels and outputs has been undertaken," Mr. Tibbetts said. Government earmarked $14.9 million to begin work on building two new high schools, redeveloping John Gray High School, and building another primary school. Explaining that Government intends to put the Health Services Authority into a stable state, Mr. Tibbetts said there will be $12 million going to the authority, but deadlines were set for the board of directors. "The Government has tasked the board with ensuring that the authority's financial position is break-even by 2007/8, while still providing high quality services." The Leader of Government Business added: "By the end of November 2005, the HSA Board will outline what it is going to do to solve the existing financial problems and become self-sustaining by the 2007/8 financial year." Expressing the view that there is no short-term or quick fixes to traffic congestion on Grand Cayman, he spoke of a need to for a National Transportation Plan to look towards a long-term solution. "Work on this will commence during 2005/6." In addition he said there are plans for legislative amendments to the Traffic Law and the Roads Law to address current traffic needs. Along with money allocated for post-Ivan work on roads, another $6.8 million goes towards new roads and road improvements. The National Roads Authority gets $1.3 million to purchase asphalt paving and transport equipment. Some $2.1 million goes to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman for a number of capital projects. Those on Cayman Brac include a day-care and pre-school facility; cabanas and bleachers at Stake Bay; a slaughter house; street lights; and a series of roads. Upgrades will continue on the Little Cayman airstrip and terminal building; a new boat ramp will be built at Jackson Point; and there is to be replacement of the fence and retaining wall of the cemetery. Affordable housing on the Brac gets $800,000. "The Government is fully committed to the economic and social development of the Sister Islands," the Leader of Government Business said. He added: "However, the Sister Islands are unique and in many instances solving their problems requires a different approach than in Grand Cayman. We need to develop economic activity in the Sister Islands that reflects their unique character." "Many of us hold the view that many of the ills of society can be traced back to the family," Mr Tibbetts said when addressing Government's goal to strengthen family and community. He pointed out that $190.6 million, or half of the budget's proposed Government expenditure, goes to a combination of education and family and community services. He said that spending on family and community services reaches across a number of government and non-governmental agencies.