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Right to know: salaries to be made public

Highly paid consultants working for the Bermuda Government and other public authorities will have details of their salaries routinely revealed under the Public Access to Information (Pati) Act.

Taxpayers will be told on a regular basis about every contract worth $50,000 or more, including those with individuals, entered into by the Island's 200-plus public bodies.

Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez said authorities will need to release the information at least annually, meaning that by April 1, when Pati has been in force for a year, details of every such contract should be public knowledge.

The legal requirement, which the commissioner has the power to enforce, will ensure publicly-funded bodies cannot sidestep questions about how much they are paying to consultants and will shed light on exactly who is being paid what out of the public purse.

Political commentator and former MP John Barritt said the change should be welcomed by all.

“Of course people should care — even if they personally are not interested in reviewing all or any of the contracts,” he said.

“This particular provision, as well as the entire Act, is aimed at changing the culture when it comes to governance in Bermuda, change that is much needed and long overdue.

“The emphasis is now on disclosure and not just acknowledging, but enshrining in law the people's overriding right to know.

“When disclosure of this sort becomes routine, and standard operating procedure around here, approaches and attitudes both inside and outside of government will change, as will, I believe, our politics.

“We will all be in the know or in position to know what is going on and how our money is being spent.”

The number and cost of consultants working for government has proved controversial in the past, with politicians from both sides of the House of Assembly levying allegations of overpay and cronyism. Disclosure of the amounts involved has often only occurred when questions have been asked in parliament.

A row broke out last year between finance minister Bob Richards and Opposition MP Walton Brown when the former claimed the latter had benefited from a $770,000 government contract — a statement which Mr Richards later retracted and clarified was for several contracts.

The previous year, tourism minister Shawn Crockwell came under fire for hiring Corey Butterfield as special adviser to his ministry on a $120,000 salary — a decision which prompted criticism from within his own party, with former senator Toni Daniels complaining of an “apparent lack of transparency and accountability”.

Under Pati, public authorities have already had to release information statements and, in some cases, the statements reveal how many consultants are on the payroll.

According to its statement, the Cabinet Office alone has eight — the consultant political advisor to the Premier, the consultant director of Bermuda's Washington office and six others.

As well as highlighting the cost of consultants, the Pati Act requires the title and salary range of every public officer in Bermuda to be published in January each year.

Although civil servant pay grades have long been included in the government's annual budget book, the actual grades of individual staff members have not.

The change is likely to mean that the salaries of executives and other high-earners at Bermuda Hospitals Boards are finally disclosed, after years of the quango insisting individual salaries were confidential.

The board's information statement says it will publish the list of titles and salary range for every public officer and of any contracts worth $50,000 or more “following the provision of Pati guidance”.

Asked if it would comply with the Act, a BHB spokeswoman said: “BHB is committed to meet all Pati requirements, as legislated, and continues to work closely with the Pati Commissioner to ensure we are compliant.”

Mr Barritt said public bodies could face some challenges in meeting the requirements of the Act but he added: “With good faith I believe we will get there.

“From what I know and from my limited experience to date with the office, I am confident that the Information Commissioner and her staff will be up to the job.”

John Barritt

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Published September 28, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated September 28, 2015 at 9:20 am)

Right to know: salaries to be made public

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