Appearing on Larry Scott’s show on Hot 107.5 to discuss the media, I was asked what had happened to The Royal Gazette’s A Right to Know campaign which called for the speedy introduction and implementation of Public Access to Information legislation.
Before I left the RG, I had discussed resurrecting this campaign with the reporter who did it, Sam Strangeways. I guess my departure put an end to that, so I want to resurrect it here.
The PATI Act was passed in Parliament in July 2010. There is a law in place – it just has yet to be implemented and so remains ‘not in force’.
Here is part of a story from The Royal Gazette from March this year:
Opposition leader Marc Bean has urged Government to enforce Bermuda’s freedom of information law “as fast as practically it can be”.
Mr Bean, whose predecessor Paula Cox pledged to implement the Public Access to Information (PATI) Act by the end of 2012, told The Royal Gazette: “Now it’s a matter of the Premier and the One Bermuda Alliance Government determining how soon or how fast they would like to see the legislation come into force or take effect.
“As with all pieces of legislation that’s passed, we encourage – taking into consideration the bureaucratic nature of government – legislation to be implemented as fast as practically it can be.”
He added: “PATI was a very important issue. I think the whole House [of Assembly] had agreed with the passing of the legislation. In particular, the One Bermuda Alliance, the then Opposition and their membership, was pushing it.
“Now they are the Government. If they have the political will to push it through, then so be it.”
The story continues: PATI was passed in July 2010 and should have been implemented by the end of last year but has yet to come into force. High-ranking members of the One Bermuda Alliance demanded the law for years when in Opposition but, until yesterday, nothing had been said about it since the party came to power in December.
There was no mention of PATI in the OBA’s election manifesto, in the 2013 Throne Speech or in the recent Budget Speech. Premier Craig Cannonier finally referred to it in a statement to the House yesterday on spending plans for the Cabinet Office. Mr Cannonier said staff would be hired in the coming fiscal year, following changes to the Act in the House of Assembly.
That is the end of the extract from the story.
What people must remember is that this legislation is not just for the Press. Certainly they will use it and hopefully use it well – as another tool to unearth wrongdoings or discrepancies that need a public explanation.
This legislation is for everyone to use. It is PUBLIC access to information and for the first time allows the electorate a direct say – other than a general election – on holding Government and its quangoes to account.
It is not for spurious questions (in the UK it has been bizarrely used leading to threats of its withdrawal). It is to help hold people in elected office and in quangos funded by the taxpayer to account
It is for the public to find out where their money is being spent.
It is for you.
Clearly this Government has its work cut out. I do not doubt that it encountered some shocking financial figures when it took office at the beginning of this year.
However it also made some promises – not least of which was to be transparent. Weekly press conferences with the Premier were promised, but in my time at the RG never delivered, for instance.
The OBA are not blameless in this…. Marc Bean is being hypocritical in his stance as this was first mooted by a PLP Premier and it was a PLP Premier who had a chance to make the legislation real, but did not….
I also remember the PLP lambasting the RG for its Right To Know campaign – three hours of free publicity by Sen Burch, Ewart Brown’s press secretary Glenn Jones and then Hott presenter and later PLP Senator Thaoo Dill all combining to criticize the paper for daring to suggest to Govt what to do. (By the way, I never thanked you guys for those three invaluable hours of free publicity – we could not have asked for more!)
But regardless of all that, it is still to be enacted. Why?
With this blog posting I ask all those who are interested, all those who care, to join me in upping the pressure on Govt to get this thing going. To enact it is a sign of a healthy democracy, a commitment to the people, a way of saying ‘we’re cool, we have nothing to hide’.
The legislation is in place, it simply has not been enacted. Please for your own sakes, pressure your MP to find out why, pressurize them to enact it, to enable YOU to use it.