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ICO suggests Finance ministry should get Pati training and support

Gitanjali Gutierrez, the Information Commissioner (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A recommendation was made for the Ministry of Finance headquarters to “seek training and support” to help maintain residents’ rights to ask for access to records.

Gitanjali Gutierrez, the Information Commissioner, included the suggestion in a decision notice when she ordered the ministry HQ to provide a decision on an internal review request.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Finance confirmed that efforts will be made to improve its Public Access to Information processes.

The Royal Gazette asked last November for copies of correspondence between the Minister of Finance that related to Gencom – the Miami-based investment company that owns the Fairmont Southampton and Rosewood Bermuda – its subsidiaries, its founder Karim Alibhai and its representative Chris Maybury.

It was the second time the Pati request was made to the ministry after no substantive response was received to an application submitted in January 2021.

No records were released in relation to the latest request and no reason was provided.

The Gazette asked for an internal review by the head of the public authority but no decision was given by the six-week deadline and a request was made for an independent review by the Information Commissioner.

Ms Gutierrez found that the Ministry of Finance headquarters failed to issue a decision within the set time frame and ordered an internal review decision to be provided by April 19.

The decision notice said: “The Information Commissioner also notes that this current Pati request arises out of a prior Pati request for the same information for which the ministry headquarters did not provide a substantive response.

“In this prior Pati request process, the ministry headquarters led the Pati requester to believe that an initial decision was forthcoming.

“Unfortunately, one was never provided but the applicant was out-of-time to seek further review.

“This current Pati request is a renewed effort to seek access to these public records, and the ministry headquarters has repeated its failure to provide a substantive response.

“The Information Commissioner recommends that the ministry headquarters seek training and support to improve their administration of their Pati responsibilities and capacity to uphold Bermudians’ and residents’ right to request access to records held by ministry headquarters.

“The purposes in section 2 of the Pati Act to increase transparency and accountability is particularly heightened in light of the significance of the work of the ministry headquarters for the people of the Bermuda.”

It added: “The Information Commissioner also recommends that the ministry headquarters consider whether it is appropriate to apologise to the applicant for its failure to comply with the statutory time frame for issuing an internal review decision.”

The notice highlighted that the decision did not address “whether a public authority has properly denied access to a record”.

It added: “Rather, it addresses the basic obligation upon a public authority to respond to a requester within the statutory time frame.”

A finance ministry spokeswoman said: “The Ministry of Finance is continually taking steps to strengthen transparency and accountability.

“We have noted the decision of the Information Commissioner and will ensure that this matter is appropriately addressed within the time frame prescribed.

“We will also take the required steps to enhance our processes and procedures in this regard.”

Similar Pati requests were made by the Gazette to the Cabinet Office – the first covering the 12 months from March 1, 2020 and the second from the time since March 1, 2021.

Copies of correspondence related to Gencom that spanned from March 25 to October 16, 2020 were received on September 21 last year.

E-mails showed that the company lobbied the Government for a delay in redundancy payments to staff.

They also revealed that in June 2020 Mr Alibhai predicted that the two hotels would suffer losses of about $30 million by spring 2021 “based on the adverse forecasts from each property post-pandemic”.

Major Marc Telemaque, the Secretary to the Cabinet, refused to release records after the Gazette’s second Pati request about Gencom to the Cabinet Office.

He found that the documents were exempt from disclosure under the Act.

Major Telemaque claimed that their release could have adverse effects on commercial interests as well as on the island’s financial interests or the Government’s ability to manage the economy.

The Gazette asked for an independent review by the Information Commissioner into the Cabinet Secretary’s decision and it was confirmed last month that the application was valid.

* To read the Information Commissioner’s Office decision in full, or to view the order, click on the PDFs under “Related Media”.

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Published March 28, 2022 at 7:46 am (Updated March 28, 2022 at 7:46 am)

ICO suggests Finance ministry should get Pati training and support

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