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Businesses have ‘nothing to fear’ from Pati

Bermuda businesses have “nothing to fear” from new access to information laws, Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez said as she spoke at a seminar organised by the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce.

Ms Gutierrez said that the Public Access to Information Act was designed to improve accountability in public bodies — but that sufficient safeguards existed to protect sensitive commercial information submitted to public authorities as part of tendering or regulatory processes.

Ms Gutierrez added: “It's a standard and common new regulatory environment which exists in 115 countries.

“Businesses have something new to adapt to and grow with and the Pati Act does strike a responsible balance between public accountability and safeguarding business interests.”

Ms Gutierrez was speaking after she delivered a seminar on the Pati legislation for businesspeople.

She added: “The main economic impacts are that public spending, the details of public spending, are now much more accessible to the public, which is appropriate.

“It doesn't mean that business interests won't be kept confidential where appropriate.

“But our post-Pati environment means much more information is going to be available to the public.”

But she added: “It's that balance — more details about public spending will be available to allow the public to understand the procurement process and make their own evaluation about value for money.

“That doesn't mean the public gets information that would compromise a business' interests, which are protected under the Pati Act.”

Ms Gutierrez said that Pati meant that businesses could benefit from the legislation.

She explained: “Generally, it's going to mean increased value for money, more competition and increased competition and that's good for those businesses entering the competitive environment and trying to get their foot in the door.

“It's good for the public because there is much more of a chance that contracts will get value for money.”

Ms Gutierrez said that public bodies were now required to regularly publish details of all contracts worth more than $50,000.

She told the business audience: “You should be aware that not necessarily all the details of the contract but the basic details of the contract will be subject to public exposure.”

Ms Gutierrez said that, subject to a public interest test, commercial information such as trade secrets or contract negotiations were exempted from disclosure.

But other information, like international tax agreement records, with limited exceptions for some statistical, technical or scientific material, enjoyed absolute exemption.

Requests for large amounts or complex information can also be denied where they would create “a substantial and unreasonable burden” and effectively shut organisations down while the submission was dealt with.

She added: “It does not serve the public for my trade secret to be given to my competitor — trade secrets are protected under the Act.”

And she advised businesses who want to protect sensitive commercial details to include them in a separate schedule in documents and mark it as confidential material “instead of mixing it up in the body of the document”.

And Ms Gutierrez said if a business was to hold a monopoly in Bermuda its interests could not be hurt by some disclosures — but that a firm could argue that overseas competitors could use documents like client lists to target customers.

And she added that, if a public authority thinks information might be covered by an exemption and gives third-party notification to a business “they now have formal rights under the Pati Act”.

Ms Gutierrez explained: “Then you have the opportunity to make submissions which must be taken into account. If you disagree with the result, you can ask for an internal review.

“If you're dissatisfied with that, you can seek a review by the Information Commissioner. If you're dissatisfied with that, you can ask for a judicial review.”

Full disclosure: Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez spoke on Pati to business people at the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce (Photograph by Raymond Hainey)

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Published February 06, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated February 06, 2017 at 12:33 am)

Businesses have ‘nothing to fear’ from Pati

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