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Commissioner clears up contract confusion

Right to Know: Gitanjali Gutierrez (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Details of public contracts worth $50,000 or more must be published under the law, the information commissioner said today.

Gitanjali Gutierrez said that the Public Access to Information Act required that public authorities publish in the Official Gazette four pieces of information — the name of the contractor, the monetary value of the contract, the good or services to be provided, and the completion date for the contract.

Ms Gutierrez said that the requirement “fulfills important purposes of public access to information”.

She added: “It ensures that the public is aware of the spending of public funds and reduces unnecessary secrecy.

“It also allows potential vendors to understand what contracts may be available with government and for the public to assess how contracts are procured and managed. “Such details allow the public a deeper understanding of how a public authority delivers its services and meets the public need.

“As the public sector increasingly improves its governance and accountability, it is critical that the public has at its fingertips the basic details concerning public spending and service provision.”

Her comments came in a press release issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office today.

The statement said the clarification had been prompted by recent debate in the House of Assembly and the Senate in the last month about obligations to make public details of contract payments.

The release said that the four details must be gazetted “unless a particular contract detail would constitute exempt information”.

It added: “Exempt information is defined in the specific provisions in Part 4 of the Pati Act.

“Under the Pati Act, an exempt contract detail does not need to be gazetted, but all other non-exempt contract details must still be gazetted for the public.”

The statement said that the Information Commissioner “is mandated to monitor public authorities’ compliance with the requirement to gazette contract details and may provide guidance to public authorities if corrective measures are necessary”.

It added: “Where the Information Commissioner determines that a public authority has not complied with its requirements under Pati, the Information Commissioner has the authority to issue an order requiring compliance with any part of Section 6 of the Pati Act.

“An order by the Information Commissioner has the same legal effect and is enforceable in the same manner as an order of the Supreme Court.”

The statement said that there had been a “noticeable increase” of contract details by public authorities between November 2018 and March 2019.

The Pati Act went into effect on April 1, 2015.