Good evening Cabinet Secretary,
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the proposed Public Access to Information Legislation. I have a number of concerns with the proposed draft that I would like to address in my submission and I thank you for taking the time to consider them.
The provision that the law will not apply to records created prior to its introduction is of considerable disappointment as it would disable individuals from collecting historical information that could prove very valuable. An example are statistical records collected but not published by various government departments. As more of our people become computer savvy it is undoubtedly a possibility that many would take interest in analyzing much of the data historical data that may have proven too cumbersome for our government to undertake. A great example is the recent announcement of dropout rates from the study of young black males where Professor Mincy had access to non-publicized data to produce answers to questions this writer had proposed and been very interested in discovering over two years ago. Had such information been available it is likely that individuals would have taken an interest in producing such calculations and yet it is a great tragedy that we do not aim to make such past, present and future records available to the public. I implore those mulling over the structure of the Public Access to Information legislation to please revise it to include historical information.
The provision that existing law prohibiting disclosure will take precedence over the new PATI law is rather concerning and introduces unnecessary complications to our legal system. The proposed PATI legislation provides an opportunity to clean up and centralize all of our disclosure legislation under one act. It does not stand to reason why we should separately leave in place laws that should be encompassed within the PATI legislation as if they are not, then certainly this would be a good opportunity to ensure that PATI can and does replace them.
It is of considerable disappointment that the fee structure has not been outlined in more detail as it makes it difficult to ascertain as to whether PATI will only be legislation to empower the wealthy or if instead it will be made affordable enough to empower the common man. It would be greatly appreciated if the fee structure could be outlined in detail as well as if it could be made as affordable as possible, if not free. Subsequently it would be appreciated if no limits were placed on the number of requests that can be made by any individual or organization.
I am rather concerned by the provision in Section 30 to prohibit access to records associated with deliberations and decision-making of public authorities. In the interest of promoting transparency and a better democracy it would be appreciated if citizens were allowed to view as well as participate in public affairs. By restricting such information we would do a disservice to our goals of transparency which would seem in contravention of the aims of the proposed PATI legislation.
It is disappointing that no provisions have been made to protect whistleblowers as we need to encourage people in every means possible to speak out for what is right. Bermudians able to speak out without fear of repercussions is something we are desperately short on in our society today as we witness many cases where we would be better off if they did. Can we not take this opportunity to promote greater protection for those individuals willing to take a stand?
Subsequently provisions for transparency of the status of all requests including the date requested, the information requested, subsequent actions as well as denied requests with reasons would also be a welcome addition to the legislation. Documents released could also be made readily accessible for others through a publication in departmental offices and on a PATI specific or departmental websites to prevent our civil servants from being potentially bombarded with requests for the same information.
Finally in the interests of promoting transparency and greater democracy it would be appreciated if regulations are subject to a vote in the legislature rather than a negative resolution procedure. Our interests should be to make access to information easier to achieve than the restriction of it. A negative resolution procedure would make it far too easy to make information difficult to achieve while there are many places where we could be doing more to make information more accessible. It is thus desirable to aim to make information easier and not more difficult to attain as to do otherwise would be inconsistent with the aims of encouraging the open and transparent government that Bermuda deserves.
Thank you kindly for the opportunity to submit my thoughts on the proposed Public Access to Information legislation and I hope that you shall strongly consider my comments and feedback.
Well put Denis.