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Commentary: The right to know in Bermuda
Published on March 20, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Senator Diallo Rabain

In 2008, a private campaign called “Right to Know: Giving People Power” was launched. The purpose of this campaign was to pressure the government of Bermuda into creating some form of PATI [Public Access to Information] process. This campaign was announced with much fanfare and gained vocal support from members of the public.

diallo_rabain.jpg
Senator Diallo Rabain is a partner in a Bermudian-owned architectural drafting and land surveying company and is the opposition leader in the Senate. diallo.rabain@gmail.com
In July 2010, the Progressive Labour Party passed the PATI Act and began putting the necessary framework in place to create an office for it within the Cabinet office.

While progress was made to get PATI going between the passing of the Act and the end of 2012, things seemed to come to grinding halt after the OBA took office. Despite Premier Cannonier announcing in March 2013 that staff would be hired in the coming fiscal year, a mere $80,000 of the $355,000 that was allocated was spent.

Take a comparative look:

• In 2011/12 budget year, $210,000 and 3 staff members were allocated to the newly formed department of PATI.

• In 2012/13 budget year $344,000 and 3 staff members were budgeted.

• In 2013/14 budget year $335,000 and 3 staff members were budgeted.

• However, for the 2014/15 budget year the funding has dropped to $146,000 and staff cut to 1.

It would seem the OBA deems PATI as unneeded or unwanted.

PATI Plug Pulled?

To some, there is no coincidence the “Right to Know campaign” seemed to end the day the OBA took office. However it is extremely disconcerting that such an important act, one that was called for, no demanded, with such fervour since 2008, has been allowed to slowly be marginalized by the OBA.

Recent activities by the OBA have made it clear that the need for such an Act continues to exist and that it should be enacted swiftly and without delay. Events such as:

• JetGate

• The OBA refusing to release the National Infrastructure Plan to the public. A plan that could create jobs for Bermudians has apparently been hidden away from the public eye.

• The OBA consistently refusing to answer parliamentary questions or providing incomplete or inadequate information to legitimate questions about taxpayer funded government activities

• The ending of the PLP’s policy of publishing the details of government contracts valued over $50k, as it relates to who bid on them and who was awarded the contract.

• Budget overruns to the tune of $45 million dollars and not one supplemental submitted to the legislature to account for these funds.

Accountability?

A fully operational PATI Office would help to not only keep the government more accountable, but do much to restore the people’s confidence in our government. A reduction in spending of 76% in the same year the premier says “…staff will be hired…” shows this government’s lack of commitment to PATI in 2013. In fact, it would seem that little work, if any was accomplished in 2013 despite what was said in March 2013.

Fast forward a year and we find the premier repeating himself in March 2014 about PATI. This year a Commissioner is to be recruited in the 2nd quarter of 2014 and amendments will be laid in the House in summer 2014.

We have heard a similar commitment to PATI before a year ago. So all we can do it wait and see if we will be back here again in 2015 hearing the same progress report, or if this government is really serious about PATI.

The truth must come to light.
 
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