ICO News

Championing transparency vital after virus – Royal Gazette

Published Jun 3, 2020 at 8:00 am
(Updated Jun 3, 2020 at 7:02 am)

  • Gitanjali Gutierrez, the Information Commissioner (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    Gitanjali Gutierrez, the Information Commissioner (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Public access to information will be vital in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gitanjali Gutierrez, the Information Commissioner, said that only through transparency would the public be able to fairly consider the actions taken to address Covid-19.

She said: Bermudians and residents may praise the Government’s response as life-saving or, alternatively, critique it as an overreaction.

“Critically, this will be a dialogue based on engagement, one in which the Government has endeavoured to be as transparent as possible while the public is evaluating the Government’s decisions from an informed and involved perspective.

“This provision of accurate and timely information, meaningful dialogue, and public accountability are exactly what the Pati Act tries to achieve.”

Ms Gutierrez added: “Imagine if this relationship based on heightened transparency, mutual engagement and respect for all stakeholders is further encouraged and continues beyond this crisis.

“Championing transparency envisions this future.”

She said that even in the face of a global pandemic, the public had a right to access public records.

Ms Gutierrez said: “You have the right to request information that matters to you and your family, as you consider and make critical, personal decisions.

“Importantly, ‘transparency’ goes further than a government providing the information it chooses to share voluntarily.”

Ms Gutierrez said in the recently released 2019 Annual Report for the Information Commissioner’s Office that the general public had taken advantage of Pati legislation.

She said that while public access to information requests from the media received most of the spotlight, half of the 91 requests last year came from members of the public.

Ms Gutierrez said: “This has included Pati requesters seeking records concerning their children’s education, pension amounts, employment records, procurement information, policy documents and licensing awards that affect their business, neighbourhoods or family.

“When Bermudians and residents exercise their right to ask under the Pati Act, they become empowered and more confident in their dealings with public authorities.

“Ultimately, when Bermudians and residents are informed, included and involved members of their community, trust and credibility between the public and public authorities flourish.”

The figures released in the annual report show that public authorities received 91 new Pati requests last year and nine requests were carried over from 2018.

Of those requests, 31 were approved by the public authority, 22 resulted in partial access to records and 27 were refused, with the remaining 20 unknown or still pending decision.

The Bermuda Police Service received 14 requests in 2019 — the most for a public body — while the Ministry of Legal Affairs received 13.

Those authorities provided access in whole or in part to public records in response to the initial application in just over half of those cases.

The ICO received 36 new applications for review last year, compared with 31 in 2018 and 22 in 2017.

Most new requests for review — 23 of the 36 — were challenges to decisions by public authorities that the records sought were exempt from the Act.

The ICO released 35 decisions in 2019, almost triple the 13 decisions made in 2018.

Of those decisions 24 were in favour of the applicant, six were found in favour of the public body and the other five were partially upheld.

One of the decisions — an order for the Bermuda Hospitals Board to disclose the range of total costs for its executive team member posts in more narrow bands, along with other compensation information — has been taken to the Supreme Court for Judicial Review.

Other decisions included the release of a business review report for the Sandys 360 sports facility; police records related to the December 2, 2016; and Government House records linked to the hiring of the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2015.


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