Fears of retaliation over Pati requests

  • Information Commissioner: Gitanjali Gutierrez (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    Information Commissioner: Gitanjali Gutierrez (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Applicants fear retaliation if they make Public Access to Information requests, the Information Commissioner has warned.

Gitanjali Gutierrez added there was a need for a “cultural shift” so that more people questioned public authorities rather than deferred to them.

Ms Gutierrez said: “Three years after the enactment of the Pati Act, the Information Commissioner’s Office continues to receive reports concerning breaches of a requester’s confidentiality.

“We also routinely have members of the public express concern about retaliation or other negative consequences if they file a Pati request.”

Ms Gutierrez said more effort had to be made to protect the identities of people who make Pati requests.

She said: “The Pati Act grants a right to access public records to Bermudians and residents of Bermuda.

“In practice, this means that public authorities need to know a requester’s identity to verify their eligibility to submit a Pati request. This prohibits requesters from filing anonymous requests.”

She added: “Taking steps to directly question a public authority rather than maintaining respectful deference may also be a challenging cultural shift whose impact may be lessened by the ability to submit a Pati request anonymously.”

Ms Gutierrez was writing in the annual report for the Information Commissioner’s Office.

She said Pati legislation would have to be updated to be in line with the Personal Information Protection Act 2016 when it comes into force.

She added: “These steps would allow Bermudians and residents to safely and confidently seek information about a range of local public services, including education, health, safety, crime, planning decisions, job development and more.”

The report also said members of the public had expressed concern about accountability and public spending, particularly where public services were outsourced.

Ms Gutierrez added it was critical that contracting standards were adhered to and the procurement process was fair and open.

She said: “The proactive publication requirements under the Pati Act are an important step in this direction.

“The proactive publication of the details of contracts over $50,000 enables the public to know what bidder was successful and to ask for further access to records concerning service delivery and contract management.

“Access to information is one of the keys to accountability of outsourced services.

“Public accountability for public authorities and outsourced contractors and consultants creates an opportunity for feedback that can lead to improvements in public service.”

The report, tabled in the House of Assembly last Friday, added public authorities received 136 new Pati requests in 2017 and had granted access to all or some records in 47 per cent of cases.

The Bermuda Police Service was the subject of most requests with 37 applications for information.

The Ministry of Health, which received 17 requests for its various departments, was second.

Ms Gutierrez said: “Importantly, we have seen public authorities who embrace transparency as a chance to share openly their accomplishments, challenges, expertise and willingness to improve.

“These public authorities welcome accountability for what it aspires to be: an opportunity to engage more fully with an informed public.

“This new relationship can only lead to improvements in government services, programmes, spending decisions and governance.”

To read the report, visit https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/5803dc_0273d553ea1042f7a58f66c338a2e273.pdf

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Published Aug 1, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 1, 2018 at 8:00 am)

Fears of retaliation over Pati requests

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