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Right to know: rejected requests

Rory Field

Journalists have been making good use of the Public Access to Information (Pati) Act since it became law on April 1 — but not every request for disclosure has been successful.

Here, we detail several failed bids to find out more.

• Residents at Summerhaven have complained to The Royal Gazette about alleged bad management at the publicly-funded residential home for the physically challenged. On July 14, we requested a copy of a report on a 2010 investigation into governance there. The Ministry of Health asked for extra time to consider whether to release it but ultimately rejected the request on September 4, citing as reasons that the document contained information received in confidence, as well as personal information. The response said to release it would “undermine the deliberative process of the public authorities” and emphasised that it contained a “key document for current investigations”. This newspaper has six weeks from September 4 to ask for an internal review of the decision and, if that failed, we could appeal to the Information Commissioner.

• The controversial reappointment by the Governor of non-Bermudian Rory Field as the Director of Public Prosecutions, instead of his Bermudian deputy Cindy Clarke, sparked many complaints earlier this year. The decision was unpopular enough within the legal profession to prompt a walkout by a group of lawyers at a special sitting of the Supreme Court to mark the start of the legal year. This newspaper made a request under Pati in June for all information and documentation on why Ms Clarke was not appointed DPP after being recommended as first choice by the selection panel. We were told by Deputy Governor Ginny Ferson the following month that the request was rejected because the paperwork included personal details and information received in confidence, both of which were exempt under the legislation.

• Salaries and bonuses at Bermuda Tourism Authority have been a hot topic in recent months and, in July, ZBM News asked the Ministry of Tourism to name all staff who have picked up bonuses and reveal how much they received. The Ministry refused, with its information officer stating in August that a public interest test had been applied, as per the law, but the conclusion was that disclosure would not promote greater public understanding of the process or decisions of BTA or promote accountability for the public expenditure or the more effective use of public funds. The officer wrote: “We believe there has been more than sufficient public disclosure on this subject matter, certainly more so than on any other publicly funded organisation.” The news channel asked for an internal review but the original decision was upheld by BTA chairman David Dodwell. ZBM can now choose whether to appeal to the Information Commissioner.