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‘Public interest is evident and strong’

Gitanjali Gutierrez, the Information Commissioner (File photograph)

The Bermuda Gaming Commission finally shared records with taxpayers from its monthly board meetings after Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez said there was an “evident and strong” public interest in disclosure.

The publicly funded regulator, which operates under a near-$10 million loan guarantee from the Government, resisted releasing the minutes of its meetings for five years but was eventually ordered to do so by Ms Gutierrez.

The Information Commissioner said meeting minutes were the type of record that “public authorities routinely and proactively disclose”, citing as examples Bermuda’s Regulatory Authority and the Corporation of Hamilton, as well as the UK Gambling Commission.

She said: “Overall, the public interest in people knowing what matters the commission is working on at a particular time, as would be documented in meeting minutes, is evident and strong.”

The BGC has now disclosed redacted minutes from September 2015 to May 2018 in response to a Pati request submitted by The Royal Gazette in May 2018, along with heavily redacted minutes for 2022 to 2023, in response to a Pati request from March this year.

The Gazette first asked for minutes from the commission in December 2017 but was told by the regulator’s general counsel that they contained “commercially sensitive, personal, financial and other excluded material”. She rejected the request on the grounds that processing it would “cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with or disruption” to the BGC’s work.

The general counsel asked the Gazette to refine its request to identify a specific topic, date or information. When the newspaper responded that it wanted to read all the minutes from the commission’s monthly meetings, it was refused again, with the BGC claiming it could not identify the record owing to insufficient information in the request.

In May 2018, the Gazette submitted a request for the minutes of the monthly meetings of the commissioners.

This time, the BGC refused on the grounds that disclosing the records would undermine the deliberative process of the BGC, “including free and frank discussion and the provision of advice …”

The rejection was appealed to commission chairwoman Cheryl-Ann Mapp, who upheld it and added other reasons for non-disclosure.

The Gazette appealed the refusal to the Information Commissioner. During Ms Gutierrez’s review, the commission cited further reasons for keeping the minutes secret from the public, including a claim that the Gazette’s request — one of seven the newspaper made to it between June 2016 and October 2018 — was “vexatious and frivolous”.

Ms Gutierrez found no evidence of that during her review. She said: “A journalist making seven requests, covering ten different topics about the commission’s operations — a public authority responsible for regulating a new area of economic activity — is reasonable.”

Ms Gutierrez wrote: “It is commonplace for public authorities to receive requests for their meeting minutes or to be asked to publish them proactively. A request for meeting minutes, on its face, is made on legitimate grounds and not for any nuisance value.”

She said the UK Gambling Commission had posted its board meeting minutes on its website from 2018 to the present, with redactions made as required.

Ms Gutierrez found the commission was wrong to withhold the minutes for many of the reasons it cited, but was justified in denying access to parts of the records. She found that some personal information was exempt from disclosure.

Her decision was one of four she released in December about requests from the Gazette to the BGC. The decisions led to the BGC disclosing documents under Pati about betting shops, contracts and its involvement with the National Anti-Money Laundering Committee.

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Published August 11, 2023 at 12:27 pm (Updated August 11, 2023 at 12:27 pm)

‘Public interest is evident and strong’

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