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Pati request for correspondence between finance minister and Gencom refused

Gitanjali Gutierrez, the Information Commissioner (File photograph)

A government department found that correspondence between the Minister of Finance and Gencom is exempt from disclosure under public access to information law.

Cheryl-Ann Lister, the acting Financial Secretary, said that the records were withheld because of continuing negotiations about the Fairmont Southampton, which is owned by the Miami-based investment firm through its subsidiary Westend Properties.

Her decision came after the Information Commissioner ordered the finance ministry HQ to provide a decision on a request for internal review into a Pati application.

The Royal Gazette asked in November for copies of correspondence between the Minister of Finance that related to Gencom —which also owns the Rosewood Bermuda — its subsidiaries, its founder, Karim Alibhai, and its representative Chris Maybury.

Ms Lister said in a letter dated April 18: “Kindly note, in consideration of the subject matter, ie the Government of Bermuda’s ongoing negotiations in respect of the Fairmont Southampton Princess and as permitted by Section 25(1)(d) of the Public Access to Information Act, the ministry has designated the requested records as exempt.

“The ministry apologises for the time taken to respond to both your initial Pati request as well as your request for an internal review of same.”

The Act exempts from disclosure records made up of information which, if released, would, or could be expected to, prejudice “the conduct or outcome of contractual or other negotiations” of anyone related to the information.

But it added that the record will be disclosed if it is in the public interest to do so.

The Gazette asked in January for an internal review to be carried out by the ministry after no records were released in response to the Pati request and no reason was given.

But no outcome was provided within the six-week time frame and an application was made for an independent review.

Gitanjali Gutierrez, the Information Commissioner, last month ordered an internal review to be carried out and a decision to be provided by April 19.

Answer Styannes, an investigation officer at the Information Commissioner’s Office, wrote to the Gazette on April 20.

She said: “In light of the issuance of the internal review decision, the Information Commissioner is satisfied that the ministry headquarters has complied with her decision notice and the accompanying order.”

Ms Styannes added that the case file was closed.

The Gazette has since requested an independent review by the Information Commissioner of the finance ministry decision not to release the records.

Legislation to allow tax relief for 15 years to support the redevelopment of the Fairmont Southampton was tabled in the House of Assembly last Friday.

MPs are expected to debate the Bill on May 6.

David Burt, the Premier and Minister of Finance, told MPs last month that support for the project will include a guarantee.

He added: “Once the guarantee is confirmed, that will be tabled in this House based on the Government Loans Act.”

Karim Alibhai, the founder and principal of Gencom, told The Royal Gazette that a financial institution was prepared to loan against tax receipts to cover part of the capital for the project.

Vance Campbell, the tourism minister, said last week that the Fairmont Southampton Hotel Act 2022 delivered “on a key undertaking made by the Government as part of negotiating the full extent of support required to make this redevelopment a reality”.

He said: “I can advise this honourable House that those discussions are at a technical and advanced stage, involving counsel for both sides working through the various practical aspects of the agreed heads of terms.

“The Ministry of Finance is fully engaged in these matters and it is my expectation that the honourable Premier and Minister of Finance will be in a position to further update this honourable House when this Bill is taken up for debate.”

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Published April 27, 2022 at 7:42 am (Updated April 27, 2022 at 7:42 am)

Pati request for correspondence between finance minister and Gencom refused

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