Unanimous approval for PATI bill

Bermuda's citizens were last night given the right to know as MPs unanimously approved a long-promised freedom of information bill.

The Island joined scores of democracies around the world which have laws allowing taxpayers access to records held by government departments and other publicly-funded organisations.

Premier Ewart Brown told the House of Assembly that an Information Commissioner would be appointed by the end of December and that the public could expect the legislation to be implemented within two to three years.


Bermuda's citizens were last night given the right to know as MPs unanimously approved a long-promised freedom of information bill.

The Island joined scores of democracies around the world which have laws allowing taxpayers access to records held by government departments and other publicly-funded organisations.

Premier Ewart Brown told the House of Assembly that an Information Commissioner would be appointed by the end of December and that the public could expect the legislation to be implemented within two to three years.

"Today is the fulfilment of the Government's long-standing pledge to operate in the light of public scrutiny," he said. "We have always had a vision for Bermuda and the Public Access to Information (PATI) bill brings us closer to the Bermuda of our imagination.

"Some may perceive this bill as a lofty concept, one for politicians and journalists. And while I'm sure that there are many who are anxious to peer through the files of the Office of the Premier, the benefits that this bill will open up to all Bermudians and residents is truly for each and every one of us."

The PATI 2010 Act was passed just before 11 p.m. after little more than an hour's debate, with only a handful of MPs speaking on it after a lengthy day discussing the reform of the municipalities.

But the two opposition parties spoke in support and a chorus of "ayes" from both sides of the chamber rang out when members were asked to declare if they were in favour.

John Barritt, the United Bermuda Party's spokesman on legislative and public administration reform, said: "This is an important step because it lets people know that they are entitled to this information."

He praised Government for its public consultation last year on the draft bill but said the final Act still wasn't quite what his party wanted. The law will not apply to records held by the judiciary, the Auditor General, the Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Information Commissioner, the Office of the Ombudsman or the Department of Public Prosecutions, unless they relate to administration.

Mr. Barritt said there were too many exemptions and all bodies should be subject to FOI requests, unless there were state secrets involved or issues of national security at stake.

He unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to make exempt records accessible after 20, rather than 30, years.

Bermuda Democratic Alliance MP Shawn Crockwell said his party applauded the Government for bringing the bill to the House and for taking on board public demand that the law be retroactive.

But he raised concern about the readiness of the Bermuda Archives to deal with requests for historical information — and the Premier conceded that "challenges" in that department were partly to blame for the length of time implementation would take.

Dr. Brown said it was vital to appoint the Information Commissioner to help prepare civil servants for PATI. "That person will be in place before the end of the calendar year," he pledged.

When first tabled in May, the bill stated that only residents of Bermuda would be able to make PATI requests but Dr. Brown changed that yesterday to read Bermudians and residents.

The Premier said the empowering bill would make government for "all generations to come" more open and transparent, develop a more efficient Civil Service and increase accountability.

The Royal Gazette's A Right To Know: Giving People Power campaign has been calling for PATI to be brought in since its launch in January 2008.

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