Fight for Freedom of Information

Guernsey does not have a Freedom of Information Law (FoI). We have a Code of Practice for Public Information, which is voluntary. There is a supposed “presumption in favour of disclosure” rule. Experience suggests, however that this is not observed if the information requested would cause discomfort. The ranks close. A full Freedom of Information Law would prevent this happening by providing a defined right to information, subject to independent interpretation by a judge or Data Protection Commissioner (rather than by a non-independent official), and thereby capable of enforcement.

Jersey and the UK have a proper Freedom of Information Law. A full Freedom of Information Law should be brought into force in Guernsey.

Excuses for not previously doing so have focussed on costs. Whilst “small government” and the minimisation of the costs of government, both those directly charged to citizens and those indirectly caused to them, is of course an important objective, it should not be used as an excuse for not doing what is undoubtedly right for the modern day, but which happens to be inconvenient to the establishment. 

In fact, the ultimate cost of a Freedom of Information Law would likely be lower than the direct costs of its implementation and existence, because that existence would encourage better practice. We believe that previous deterrent scaremongering estimates of the costs of providing information transparency have been greatly overestimated for a small community such as Guernsey, but in any event, if the organisation is in fact operating cleanly, the costs will be reduced; it is merely a question of efficiency. We believe that FoI will pay for itself in practice, because the likelihood of public disclosures would result in more careful decision-making with consequent savings to the public purse, as well as discouraging the questionable use (whether through profligacy or doubtful propriety) of taxpayers’ monies. The real question is: in a modern climate, can Guernsey afford not to have such a Law?

Importantly, though, the system for providing FoI must be reasonably affordable for the applicant. The “free” availability of information is an illusion if the costs of obtaining that information are initially high, or prohibitive in the face of any resistance, and any system for implementing FoI must take account of this. There are methods of dealing with this, such as a sliding scale of fees & we might be well advised to examine Jersey law in this regard, and see how they do it.

We believe that an easy, effective and affordable route for accessing information must be developed and provided, particularly for the aggrieved. It is a vital tool for both the efficiency of a modern system of government, and for promoting the trust of citizens. The case for introducing such a Law going forward is therefore compelling. 

A more difficult question is how far any such Law should have retrospective effect. It might reasonably be feared that unlimited retrospectivity could encourage an avalanche of requests, and expense out of all proportion to any practical benefit. It would be reasonable, therefore, for there to be some form of time limit. However, such limits must be sufficiently liberal or flexible so as to permit applications with regard to matters of continuing effect on the applicant, or which relate to issues of proper conduct in public office. But the correct scope of these qualifying requirements could, and should, in case of dispute, be decided on by the independent judgment of a court or Data Protection Commissioner, and not by an official, and in all cases there would be a presumption in favour of disclosure. It is worth noting that Jersey has implemented retrospective FoI, and that matters are administered by the Data Protection Commissioner.

Only that way will a Freedom of Information Law be able to fulfil its proper function; encouraging transparency and promoting confidence in government. What politician or official could conscientiously object to this?

© 2020, The 2020 Association

https://guernseypress.com/news/2020/02/03/freedom-of-information-should-be-enshrined-in-law/

Airport Runway (Part B) information response from P&R

On the 2nd May 2019, we demanded to see PwC Part B Tender docs under the States of Guernsey Code of Practice for Access to Public Information (2014).

We asked because the figure of up to £700,000 was given in P&R’s policy letter relating to the review of strategic air and sea links infrastructure.. but by the States meeting of 26 April it had become of £700,000.

We wanted to know how many tender submissions there were, what the scope of the the tenders was and what was their breakdown.

On the 24th May 2019, P&R declined to provide any further details on the airlinks tender.

This response is exactly why a proportionate freedom of information law is a necessity.

P&R must conduct business in a transparent and accountable manner.

Airport Runway (Part B) Tender information request

2020 Association demands to see PwC Part B Tender docs.

The 2020 Association has made a request under the States of Guernsey Code of Practice for Access to Public Information (2014) for information for tender documents and information relating to Part B (business case) of the PwC island’s air and sea transport links report, with a view to general disclosure to the public.


James Collings, the Chairman of the Association, said “Following our successful request to have the PwC Report into Air Links Infrastructure Report released, The 2020 Association now requests further information relating to the tendering and costing of Part B of this Report, which the States voted not to pay for on the 26/04/2019. These are documents that can be released to the public in a redacted form at least. They have been paid for from the public purse. The taxpayer has a right to see them, and P&R have an obvious obligation to produce them. The 2020 Association has therefore made a request for production under the States of Guernsey Code of Practice.”

The improvement of transport connectivity, and the implementation of a full Freedom of Information Law are among the foremost stated objectives of the 2020 Association.

A copy of our letter is here.

On the 24th May 2019, P&R declined to provide any further details on the airlinks tender.

2020 Association claims publication victory

The long awaited PwC Air Links Infrastructure Report has finally been released on Friday 8th March, following a request for its publication made by The 2020 Association under the States of Guernsey Code of Practice for Access to Public Information, (2014).

The 2020 Association made its request on Monday 4th March. After an immediate holding response saying that the States would “aim to respond within 20 days”, the Policy and Resources Committee then stated to the Association that the Report would be released by Monday 11th March. A draft was in fact released on Friday 8th March, an interim version on Tuesday 12th March and the final release on Wednesday 13th March.

James Collings, the Chief Executive of the 2020 Association, said: “We are very pleased that as a result of our efforts, and apparently following some urgent scrambling caused by the receipt of our request, this important Report has now been opened up so that the public, who have paid for it, can examine its content and judge how it has been handled by our government. We will ourselves be looking at the Report in the light of the comments made during States’ Debates after receipt of the Report but before it was made public.

“We are especially pleased at our victory because we understand that up to 90% of requests under the Code are declined. We remain of the view that such an important aspect of government accountability ought, in the modern day, to be the subject of a full Freedom of Information Law, rather than simply a Code of Practice. Guernsey’s people deserve nothing less.”

The Report can be found on line at:

https://www.gov.gg/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=118067&p=0

https://www.gov.gg/article/170671/Review-of-Strategic-Air-and-Sea-Links-Infrastructure

PwC Airport & Condor Reports

2020 Association demands to see PwC reports on transport links

The 2020 Association has made a request under the States of Guernsey Code of Practice for Access to Public Information (2014) for the two Reports commissioned by the States on the island’s air and sea transport links to be produced to it, with a view to general disclosure to the public.


James Collings, the Chief Executive of the Association, said “In spring 2018, PwC was commissioned by the Policy and Resources Committee to produce two Reports: one into Air Links Infrastructure and the second into a Contingency Plan relating to the sale of Condor Ferries by its owner. These Reports were received back by P&R in autumn 2018. They have been shared with the Committee for Economic Development, the States Trading Supervisory Board and the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure. However, they have been withheld from the public. These are public documents. They have been paid for from the public purse. The taxpayer has a right to see them, and P&R have an obvious obligation to produce them. The 2020 Association has therefore made a request for production under the States of Guernsey Code of Practice.”

The improvement of transport connectivity, and the implementation of a full Freedom of Information Law are among the foremost stated objectives of the 2020 Association.

A copy of our letter is here.


“The 2020 Association” announces its launch.

New Guernsey political association comes into being: “Change starts here!”

Following success in the Island Wide Voting Referendum five members resigned from the Executive Committee of the recently formed Islanders Association because of “irreconcilable differences of administrative style” with another committee member. One of them, Harvey Marshall, says “Many people approached us afterwards, regretting the departure of the majority of the “team” at the Islanders, and asking whether we would be setting up another association. We are pleased to announce that The 2020 Association is the result. The Association is supported by Deputies Ferbrache, Mooney and Kuttelwascher, who will be playing an important role towards its success.

“Although there are some bright stars, it is our confirmed view that the present States is one of the worst ever. It is only when one examines the quality of many of the members of the States, by listening to their debates, and noting the sheer incompetence of some of the decisions taken, that one realises that if this situation continues the island will simply descend ever more speedily into being an economically stultified backwater; a result of not promptly and efficiently addressing vital issues such as connectivity and economic development, and being hampered by complacency and inadequacy.

“We think that the 2020 Association can enable a difference to be made by forming an association which can effectively bring together and support like-minded people who have been quizzed as to their attributes, acumen and approach; a better calibre of people who can stand for the States. This is the first step towards giving Guernsey an efficient government, which is what it so badly needs.

“The 2020 Association aims to provide a focal point which the electorate can recognise and can trust in the context of island wide voting. We will not be a political party. We recognise that the concept of the traditional political party is anathema in Guernsey, and so there will be no whipping. What we intend is that the membership will be canvassed via the internet for their views on particular issues as they arise – to give their opinions on what would be best for the island. The Deputies affiliated to the Association would then be informed of the results of this consultation, and requested to follow those results, but they would do so because of their knowledge of widespread views, and they would always be free to vote according to their own personal convictions if they felt really strongly.

“The first task will be to get a sufficient number of deputies elected under the association’s banner in 2020. Creating a single core manifesto to which 2020 candidates will subscribe will assist this, because the electorate will not have to read many different manifestos.

“Assuming we succeed, our next task will be to start to reform the management of the States and Civil Service, where we would bring a culture of competence, accountability and transparency to both – to encourage better, more considered decision making. We’d remove the silo mentality, leading to more joined up and efficient government; one where people see the big picture instead of focussing on their own departments. We’d encourage an administration with a co-operative “can do” approach, rather than looking for problems.

“We are against unnecessary regulation, bureaucracy and the interference of Government, which should be enough to provide the fundamental, critical requirements that individuals cannot of themselves provide – and no more. We seek a realistic path towards a prosperity which should have benefits for all.

“We have a very good team lined up to help manage the above ambition, including, amongst others, Geoff Dorey and Peter Atkinson. And given our success in the IWV issue, we think we could make a big difference to the Island and put Guernsey back on the track which it used to have; where success bred success, rather than its current complacent, inefficient belief that everything will always turn out all right.”

The Chairman of the 2020 Association, Harvey Marshall, added “This is an opportunity for those who voted for Island Wide Voting, and others, to ensure the success of the Island in the future. We urge them all to support the 2020 Association.”

30/11/2018

© 2018 – The 2020 Association