About Us

What is the St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign?

 

About Us [St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign:About Us]

...the public are our ultimate paymaster and we should therefore be open with them, unless there is a very good reason not to be” - Guidance issued to UK Civil Servants.

Go to: What is Freedom of Information?Why do we need it?Official words

What is Freedom of Information?

Freedom of Information (“FoI”) grants a general right to access government information, necessary in a modern democracy. FoI reverses the normal assumption in the civil service that all information should remain secret: public sector information is essentially paid for and owned by the public, and it should therefore be treated as openly and transparently as possible, all the while balanced with the legitimate need for public authorities to withhold some information.

Widely recognized legitimate reasons for withholding information (“exemptions”) from an applicant include the interests of national security, law enforcement, legal privilege, breach of confidence, effective conduct of public affairs, commercial interests, privacy, health and safety, as well as a number of exceptions such as when a request is vexatious or where a full response would divert too many resources. Most exemptions are not absolute, they are harm-based and may be subject to a public interest test similar to a common law public interest test.

Widely recognized, as well, is the right to appeal decisions on access made by public authorities to an independent body such as an Information Commissioner or an Ombudsman.

Why do we need it?

In his interview with Simon Pipe{1} in May 2012, DfID Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell sang the praises of Transparency in public life. But when asked why none of the British Overseas Territories has Freedom of Information Legislation in place he said it was a matter for the territories’ local administrations, not for him.

We believe St Helena would benefit from more transparency.

Transparency benefits everyone. If you see a government decision and you ask yourself “how on earth did they come to that conclusion?” transparency tells you the answer. It benefits you - you understand - and, importantly, it benefits government . . . .

Imagine that a decision has been taken that disadvantages you or your friends, family or business interests. If you don’t know how the decision was reached, you might think that you have been deliberately victimised. Maybe someone who dislikes you has had influence over the decision? But if the decision-making process is transparent you know that didn’t happen. Moreover, because it’s a transparent process you know that couldn’t have happened. Everybody benefits from knowing the decision was objective, not personal.

Imagine a decision is announced and widely criticised. If government explains how it took the decision, everyone can understand. And if there is information the government didn’t have, or ways of approaching the issue they didn’t think of, someone else can spot it and fill in the gaps. If a government (any government) hides behind secrecy, people usually assume the worst - malice or incompetence - neither of which is a healthy view of a government’s decisions.

Should everything be transparent? No. Some things must remain confidential. But what changes with transparency is how the decision to publish is taken. At present, everything is secret unless government decides to publish it. In a transparent government, everything is public unless there is a good reason to make it a secret. By applying the secrecy test that way around much more gets published.

Could I use it to find out stuff about my neighbours? No. Freedom of Information only covers government information and always specifically excludes personal and private information.

Do we need a full Freedom of Information act like the UK or USA? We don’t think so. Life here is much less complex and we’re sure local legislation could meet our need without adding any significant expense. We don’t need to create a new bureaucracy! Something simple that implements the “it’s published unless there’s a reason not to” test would do.

Finally, people will naturally trust an open government much more than a secretive one. If we can’t trust our government to make fair and sensible decisions, we are in a pretty dire situation. Anything that helps us gain that trust has to be worth considering.

 

This is not an anti-government campaign - it’s not an anti-anyone campaign. We believe improving transparency here benefits everyone. If you do too, please contact us or ‘like’ our campaign page on Facebook.

We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.” - excerpt from Barak Obama’s commitment to Transparency in government.

Our page Related Sites has links to other useful Freedom of Information resources.

Official words

In his inauguration speech as Governor, Mark Capes assured his audience that he would:

…seek to be accessible and as transparent and open as possible about government policies and decisions, while fully embracing a spirit of partnership and cooperation with your elected representatives and of course with you, the good people of St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha.

Footnotes:

{1} sthelenaonline.org or sthelenaonline.wordpress.com.


Wordle - Transparency [St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign:About Us]


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