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OBA: Government should be ‘embarrassed’ by lack of Pati business plan

Accountability: Jarion Richardson said Press freedoms need to be upheld rather than eroded (File photograph)

The Government’s failure to develop a business plan ahead of charging fees for public access to information requests is “an embarrassment” according to the Opposition.

Jarion Richardson, the One Bermuda Alliance deputy leader, added that fees would put access to information on “a slippery slope” where freedoms to information were at risk of being eroded.

Mr Richardson spoke out after revelations this week that the Government had failed to develop a business plan to justify charging fees for Pati requests. The failure came to light in response to a Pati request from this newspaper.

Mr Richardson said: “This government should be embarrassed by the discovery it has no business case to justify charging to access public information.

“As the One Bermuda Alliance has previously stated, the Government’s grounds for introducing a fee for public access to information was based entirely on anecdotal information.

“A single information request, which the Government fought at every step, is apparently the only leg they have to stand on.”

Describing press freedoms as “incredibly precious”, Mr Richardson added: “They are enshrined in every stable democracy, thriving economy and secure society. But they are hard won and easily lost.

“It is slippery slope, and none too subtle, to curtail freedoms to information. What starts as a ‘nominal’ fee can quickly become a confusing mess so dense and bureaucratic, that there’s no point even trying to get information.

“The state of our economy already threatens the free press, with fewer newspapers and news broadcasts every year.

“The introduction of the fee for access to information may be warranted. But given how difficult it already is to get access to public information, the fee will be yet another hurdle to holding the Government to account.”

David Burt announced plans to introduce the “nominal fee” in February. He said it was necessary because of the cost of responding to Pati requests, adding that the Government had spent more than $300,000 answering a single request.

In March Vance Campbell, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, said that the tariff could raise $50,000 for the Government each year.

Unanswered Pati questions

The Royal Gazette sent a Pati request to the Cabinet Office in March after David Burt announced that the Government would be charging fees for providing information.

This newspaper also asked for:

• a breakdown of how the $300,000+ was spent

• a list of short-term consultants hired by the Government to deal with Pati requests since the law came into effect in 2015

• a breakdown of the cost of those hires

• the Pati requests processed by those consultants and any subsequent disclosure of records, and

• the list of public authorities involved in the hiring of consultants to deal with Pati requests.

That announcement was condemned by Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez, who said that the fee could discourage members of the public from asking for records, while failing to raise any significant revenue for the Government.

Mr Burt did not respond to questions from The Royal Gazette about the lack of a business plan by press time.

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Published May 05, 2023 at 7:46 am (Updated May 05, 2023 at 7:46 am)

OBA: Government should be ‘embarrassed’ by lack of Pati business plan

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