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Cabinet Secretary directed to respond to Pati request on MDL

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Missed deadline: Marc Telemaque, the Cabinet Secretary

The Cabinet Office has been ordered to decide whether to release records about the government lab set up to handle Covid-19 testing.

The Molecular Diagnostic and Research Laboratory was launched at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in spring 2020 and has been in the news regularly since, including in January when its director Carika Weldon quit and in March when jobs were axed.

The Royal Gazette made a public access to information request for documents about the facility to the Ministry of Health last October.

The ministry’s information officer transferred part of the request to the Cabinet Office because the “contracts currently held with MDL and the Government are managed from that department”.

But the Cabinet Office did not respond in the six-week time frame set out in the Pati Act and Cabinet Secretary Marc Telemaque failed to meet another six-week deadline to make a decision about the request.

Acting Information Commissioner LaKai Dill has now ordered Major Telemaque to provide a decision by June 6.

Her findings on the matter will be made public by the Information Commissioner’s Office on Monday.

The Gazette asked for communications about the formation of MDL and its status within government, as well as financial statements and budgetary and staff information.

The Cabinet Office told Ms Dill, during her review of its failure to decide, that the part of the request regarding the formation of the lab was too broad in scope.

Ms Dill wrote: “In response to the Cabinet Office’s request for guidance on how to handle the Pati request, the ICO strongly encouraged the Cabinet Office to communicate meaningfully with the applicant …”

She added: “The Information Commissioner also recommends that the Cabinet Office 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 Ministry of Health has released some records to the Gazette concerning MDL.

Responsibility for the lab moved from the Cabinet Office to the health ministry on April 1.

In a separate decision, Ms Dill ordered the permanent secretary at the Ministry of National Security to issue a decision to the Gazette on the disclosure of records concerning the December 2, 2016 protest.

The newspaper had asked Christopher Farrow to review whether the ministry’s information officer had disclosed all relevant records in response to a Pati request – but the PS failed to respond in the six-week time frame.

Christopher Farrow, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of National Security (Photograph provided)

The ministry told the ICO that “extenuating circumstances existed, which had made both the statutory time frame and the scope of the review unrealistic to meet and complete.

“These included the sheer volume of records and the Ministry Headquarters’ limited resources due to staff being on leave …”

Ms Dill gave Mr Farrow until June 8 to give a decision and recommended the Ministry Headquarters consider whether an apology was appropriate.

To read the ICO decisions, click on the PDF under Related Media.

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Published May 12, 2022 at 7:38 am (Updated May 12, 2022 at 7:38 am)

Cabinet Secretary directed to respond to Pati request on MDL

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