Education ministry ordered to make decision on records

  • Launched programme: former premier Dame Jennifer Smith (Photograph supplied).

    Launched programme: former premier Dame Jennifer Smith (Photograph supplied).

Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez has ordered the Ministry of Education to decide whether to release records on a fundraising scheme to help fix ageing public school buildings, in a decision due to be made public tomorrow.

Records about the Adopt-a-School scheme, which was launched in 2010 by former education minister Dame Jennifer Smith, were requested by The Royal Gazette under public access to information legislation in February 2016.

The ministry twice failed to respond properly to the request, according to an earlier decision by Ms Gutierrez.

Officials eventually released only five pages of documents in June 2016, which sparked an appeal by The Royal Gazette to the Information Commissioner’s Office over the limited disclosure.

Ms Gutierrez said in her new decision that the ministry “did not conduct a reasonable search in its original handling of the Pati request and that this led to an incomplete and inaccurate initial response to the Pati request”.

She added that it was one of the first requests received by the ministry and it had since carried out further searches and found more records.

Ms Gutierrez said: “The Information Commissioner is satisfied that the ministry’s additional search was reasonable and expresses appreciation to the ministry for its efforts during this review.

“The ministry is required under the Pati Act to process the records located in the additional search and to issue a new initial decision on whether the records should be disclosed ... or withheld ...”.

The commissioner has given the ministry until December 20 to issue a new decision.

The Adopt-a-School scheme was announced by Dame Jennifer in November 2010 as a way to raise money for repair work at schools.

The minister said in June 2011 that $180,000 had been raised to improve more than a dozen schools.

Those reported to have adopted schools and donated money included David Burt, now the Premier; Ewart Brown, a former premier; Cabinet ministers David Burch and Zane DeSilva; the Green family; Greymane Contracting; and Jim Kerwin, of Rock Media.

The Pati request was submitted soon after the ministry released its Score report on the state of school buildings in 2016.

The report revealed a string of health and safety failings across Bermuda’s public primary schools, including exposed live electrical wires, rodents climbing into classrooms, discarded condoms, and a play structure said to be “an accident waiting to happen”.

The request asked for a list of all the schools that were adopted, the names of their adopters, the amounts of money given to the schools by the adopters and details of how the money was spent.

UPDATE: This article has been amended to make clear that the Information Commissioner has ordered the Ministry of Education to make a decision on whether to release records. She has not ordered the ministry to release the records, as was initially reported. We apologise for the error.

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Published Nov 14, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 14, 2019 at 4:02 pm)

Education ministry ordered to make decision on records

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