Articles

and other publications about FoI

 

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light.Plato

 

Go to: International media organisations reaffirm support for global freedom of information and expression…Incompetence and Deceit…Letter to The Editor of The IndependentLetter to The Editor of The IndependentResponses from Prospective Councillors - FinalLetter to The Editor of The IndependentResponses from Prospective CouncillorsLetter from “London Reader”Transparency International Welcomes Good Governance Goal Proposed By New United Nations ReportSecrecy leaves islands at risk of corruption, warns RSPB


International media organisations reaffirm support for global freedom of information and expression

BBC logo [St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign:Articles]

Published on the BBC Website, 4th December 2015

DG7 joint statement:

We, the members of the DG7, at our annual meeting this year in Tokyo November 30 - December 1, have reaffirmed our support for global freedom of information and expression, articulated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The DG7 comprises publicly funded international media organisations from seven democratic nations: Australia, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States, represented by their respective directors general or chief executive officers.

Following the recent attacks in Paris and ongoing extremist violence in many parts of the world, including the Middle East and North Africa, the African Sahel, and South Asia, we condemn the contributing role of information as a weapon of terror and tool for recruitment of extremists.

We further note the continued decline of media freedom around the world as documented by international organisations such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders.

It is in this environment that we renew our call for unfettered access by citizens everywhere to free flows of fact-based, verifiable journalism. This we do in recognition of the critical role freedom of information and freedom of expression play in supporting peaceful and prosperous societies.

BBC Press Office

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…Incompetence and Deceit…

SAMS logo [St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign:Articles]

By August Graham, SAMS, Published in The Sentinel, 9th July 2015

SHG Sugarcoat Failed Information Legislation as it takes Four Times the Allotted days to put in a Request

The new Access to SHG Information code of practice seems to have failed to make government more transparent. Half of the eight requests submitted so far have been refused, and one request took 79 days to receive a final response, four times more than the allowed period. Despite this SHG has tried to sugarcoat it.

The current system was implemented in September, however John Turner, who was instrumental in campaigning for freedom of information{1}, told The Sentinel it is an inadequate system as it is “nothing like a freedom of information act.”

It was on 9th January, to test SHG’s system, that The Sentinel submitted a request under the code for Sure South Atlantic Ltd’s telecommunications contract. The legislation states that requests must receive an answer within 20 working days of receipt, and in exceptional cases that initial period can be extended by a further 20 days. However it was not until 5th May - 79 working days after receipt - that The Sentinel finally got the final response, with only one piece of commercially sensitive information redacted.

In a press release dated 26th June SHG described the incident: “The only request which was not answered within the initial 20 working days period was that relating to the agreements with Sure, where the additional 20 day period was invoked in order to take legal advice.” This description made no reference to the fact that a further 39 days were needed on top of the extension.

In the same release they also state that “seven of the eight requests were answered within the 20 day initial time period and the average response time was 17 working days.” However it seems SHG’s calculations did not count the time it took to respond to the Sure request. If this is factored in, as it should be, the average response time would be 25 working days - not 17 as claimed.

When contacted by The Sentinel SHG claimed that the figure they supplied was “a true and fair indication of the average number of days it has taken so far to respond within the first 20 working days” adding that “we didn’t factor in your request relating to Sure as it was the only one that required longer than the initial 20 day period.”

Half of all requests under the code were refused by SHG for a number of reasons. John Turner said that real freedom of information would require SHG to publish their reasons for taking decisions. This would create a situation where government would have to justify their decisions, but it will also mean that allegations of corruption would be easily dismissed{2}.

 


The following week (16th July 2015) The Sentinel published this letter:

I refer to August Graham’s article last week about the operation of SHG’s Code of Public Access to SHG Information (p.9, Sentinel, 9th July 2015).

Mr Graham’s article betrays a bias, no doubt based in part on his experience with one of his own requests under the Code when, regrettably, a response was significantly delayed.

However, he fails to mention his other two requests, and goes on to clumsily use just the one instance of delay to distort the overall figures, asserting that ‘… it takes four times the allotted days to put in a request’ - implying, I assume, that all requests take this time.

As was pointed out to him before he wrote, the majority of answers took an average of 17 days to issue. This is indeed a ‘true and fair indication of the average number of days it has taken so far to respond within the first 20 working day period.’ This is not a ‘Sugarcoat’, it is a fact. With reference to Mr Graham’s bizarre headline, I ask that he should either evidence his use of the word ’deceit’, or retract it.

Yours faithfully, Roy Burke, Chief Secretary, Corporate Support

It should be noted that the 23rd July 2015 edition of The Sentinel contains no such evidence or retraction.

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Letter to The Editor of The Independent

Published in the St Helena Independent, 8th March 2014.

Dear Sir,

After all the fuss at the time of last year’s election you may be wondering where we are on Freedom of Information. I can summarise.

The problem is our Constitution. It enshrines the very secrecy we are trying to overturn. And it is not legally possible to pass an Ordinance that contradicts the Constitution. The Ordinance would require councillors and officials to release information (which, I should say, many of them seem willing to do) but the Constitution, which is more powerful, would stop them. So before we can have a Freedom of Information Ordinance we first have to get the Constitution changed.

Changing our Constitution is not easy. We can’t do it ourselves. Any changes we want to make have to be approved in London. So we are now trying to figure out how to persuade London to allow us to put through this change.

Perhaps we should remind them of (then) DfID Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell’s words in May 2012, when he said that FoI “was a matter for the territories’ local administrations, not for him”. It seems he was wrong. Our local administration is keen to make the change but it is London that is currently holding us back.

If any of your readers have suggestions as to how we could move things forward they are welcome to email the St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign using info@sthelenafoi.org.

John Turner, for the St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign

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Letter to The Editor of The Independent

Published in the St Helena Independent, 12th July 2013.

Esteemed Editor,

The time has come for Saints to speak, once again, for all the Overseas Territories.

They did so over ten years ago when Basil George and a few brave Saints shamed HMG into restoring full British citizenship to all the territories.

Mark Capes cares about “dialogue” only when others have to do the listening. His secrecy and “selective transparency” have stood in the way of of Freedom of Information in Bermuda, in Anguilla, in TCI and now in St Helena.

Abuses happening today in St Helena cannot be corrected if the people don’t know they’re happening. The Saints’ heritage does not belong to the Capes family.

It is time for FoI. It may occasionally embarrass someone in The Ruling Class. God won’t fall out of His throne.

Below is an editorial by the fearless editors of the TCI Journal three years ago. It went nowhere, and the hapless people of the Turks & Caicos Islands continue to live in darkness. If abuses are revealed by turning on the light, do not blame the light.

I simply ask St Helena’s 20 candidates: are you ready to protect the legacy you inherited from Basil and his colleagues?

London Reader

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Responses from Prospective Councillors - Final

Published in the St Helena Independent, 12th July 2013.

Dear Sir,

I wrote to you last week setting out the responses I had received to date from prospective councillors to my question “Will you, within three months of being elected, propose a bill to introduce Freedom of Information for St Helena, or support such a bill proposed by another?” I have now had responses from all but one candidate - Raymond Williams, who I could not contact by email - and so can give you the final results.

Those that would introduce and/or support a bill are: Nigel Dollery, Gavin Ellick, Cyril Gunnell, Lawson Henry, Bernice Olsson, Ian Rummery and Derek Thomas.

Those that would support such a bill but not actually introduce it themselves are: Les Baldwin, Audrey Constantine, Wilson Duncan, Cyril George, Stedson George, Earl Henry, Brian Isaac, Brenda Moors and Lionel Williams.

Those that consider Freedom of Information important for St Helena but could not commit to my timetable are: Anthony Green, Christine Scipio-O’Dean and Mervyn Yon.

This is a great result! Every single candidate I contacted has expressed support for the introduction of Freedom of Information Legislation for St Helena. Seven of these nineteen will actually cooperate to introduce a bill into the house within three months of being elected (the St Helena Freedom of Information campaign will help them in this).

It, of course, remains to be seen how successful they are. I note with interest that those most wary of my timetable are all existing councillors, who perhaps have experience of how long things can take here without the support of the Administration. The FCO and DfID openly encourage the introduction of Freedom of Information Legislation in all overseas territories. Even tiny places like Pitcairn Island have it. I trust this clear political will from our new councillors will receive the full support and cooperation of the Administration and that St Helena will have Freedom of Information Legislation in place early in the new council’s term.

Yours faithfully,

John Turner, Burgh House, Barren Ground

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Letter to The Editor of The Independent

Published in the St Helena Independent, 12th July 2013 and also in The Sentinel 11th July 2013.

Dear Sir,

Raymond Williams, writing in last week’s Independent asks “who is responsible” for a number of cited examples of government waste. I think I can help him here, just a little. If St Helena had Freedom of Information Legislation in place he would have the right to receive an answer to that question. Not only that, but when the decision to purchase these items was taken the evidence considered would have been published and the people of St Helena could see who took the decision and on what basis. These examples of waste just highlight one reason why St Helena needs Freedom of Information Legislation.

Yours faithfully

John Turner, Burgh House, Barren Ground.

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Responses from Prospective Councillors

Published in the St Helena Independent, 5th July 2013.

Dear Sir,

A while ago I started contacting potential councillors to see if they would pledge to introduce Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation within three months of being elected. FoI is important because it would require the government to explain how it takes it decisions - what was considered and how. By exposing the decision making process to public scrutiny it ensures that decisions are taken properly, sensibly and fairly.

Since the announcement, of the candidates I have emailed all those who had not already given me their pledge. Not all have responded yet - I hope the others will - but, as the lists below show, there is a clear majority in favour of introducing FoI legislation to St Helena.

Those who would definitely introduce legislation within three months of being elected, or support it if introduced by another are: Nigel Dollery, Gavin Ellick, Cyril Gunnell, Lawson Henry, Bernice Olsson, Ian Rummery and Derek Thomas.

Others who would support FoI legislation but not introduce it themselves are: Audrey Constantine, Stedson George, Brian Isaac and Brenda Moors.

Those that consider FoI important but see difficulties in meeting my proposed timetable are: Anthony Green, Earl Henry and Mervyn Yon.

I have not (yet) had responses from: Les Baldwin, Wilson Duncan, Cyril George, Christine Scipio-O’Dean, Lionel Williams and Raymond Williams, but I only emailed them on Tuesday/Wednesday so I am not concerned by that. I hope they will reply to me soon. I plan to send you an update next week.

Nobody has actually said they would NOT support FoI and I am greatly encouraged by the responses I have received.

Yours faithfully,

John Turner, Burgh House, Barren Ground

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Letter from “London Reader”

Published in the St Helena Independent, 31st May 2013.

Esteemed Editor,

The constitution of St Helena is unique among the Overseas Territories in allowing benign dictator-style governance by a governor and a complicit attorney general.

The recent flap over the wharf arises not from the condition of the wharf, its seawall or the paving, but the arrogance and secrecy with which SHG has surrounded the facts, costs, options and tendering. Some governors seem to care about dialogue only when others have to do the listening.

This is but another example of how Freedom of Information can make the difference between democracy and authoritarian tyranny. Abuses of power can only be corrected if we know they’re happening.

The most effective way to protect democratic ideals in St Helena is an effective and enforceable FOI system. It is good that this election issue has assumed the prominence it deserves.

Some candidates obviously disagree. One can only wonder what agenda they have for the people. I don’t expect they will tell us.

London Reader

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Transparency International Welcomes Good Governance Goal Proposed By New United Nations Report

United Nations high level panel report on post-2015 priorities

30 May 2013 by Transparency International Secretariat

Transparency International, the anti-corruption organisation, welcomes the proposal to make transparent and accountable governance a cornerstone in the drive to end world poverty and reduce inequality, as outlined in the report published today by the High Level Panel convened by the United Nations.

The panel -- established to recommend new goals and targets after 2015 when the original Millennium Development Goals are set to expire -- calls for a stand-alone goal to ensure good governance and effective institutions, including a target to reduce bribery and corruption.

The High Level Panel is a group of specially selected individuals representing broad global constituencies. Its report identifies 12 areas for post-2015 United Nations goals, three of which are new additions to the eight original MDG goals identified in 2000 as the Millennium Development Goals. Because of the success of the initiative the United Nations plans to extend and broaden the post 2015 goals. This report is one of several consultative initiatives to draw up a new agenda.

 “This is an important first step in ensuring that good governance and anti-corruption will be at the heart of the post-2015 agenda to help end poverty and inequality and ensure a sustainable quality of life for everyone. If we put these two issues at the centre of all activities, it increases the likelihood that the goals will be reached,” said Huguette Labelle, chair of Transparency International.

These new proposals not only focus on a separate goal for governance but also a goal for stable and peaceful societies that includes targets for whether justice systems work with integrity and the police are accountable. According to Transparency International’s research, people around the world rate the police and judiciary among the three most bribery-prone institutions.

 “Strong and corruption-free institutions can deliver prosperity, peace and sustainability, which makes it imperative that good governance provides the anchor for the global political agenda in the years to come,” said Labelle.

In a recent global poll of nearly 600,000 people, conducted by the United Nations to find out what citizens around the world believe are the most important concerns the UN should address, an honest and responsive government came third after good education and better healthcare.

The high level report will be handed over to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who is responsible for overseeing the next steps of the process to determine the post-2015 goals. A final list of goals is expected to be ready by 2014. This will be voted on by countries in the General Assembly.

Transparency International is the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption

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Secrecy leaves islands at risk of corruption, warns RSPB

By Simon Pipe{3}, reproduced in the St Helena Independent 19th April 2013.

Secretive decision-making by governments in St Helena and other British overseas territories leaves them vulnerable to corruption, MPs in London have been warned.

The same lack of transparency had already brought down the government in the Turks and Caicos Islands amid global reports of scandal, said Clare Stringer of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Her warning echoed strong concerns raised about the conduct of St Helena’s executive council, which meets almost entirely in secret and refuses public access to agendas, reports and minutes. Even members of St Helena’s legislative council have been denied information, despite being responsible for passing new laws and scrutinising government.

Clare Stringer delivered her warning in evidence to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on Wednesday, 17th April 2013. She referred to a recent RSPB review that found widespread lack of openness.

Speaking as head of the RSPB’s overseas territories unit, she said islands were vulnerable to unhealthy outside influence if they did not have “robust legislation and transparency systems.”

She went on: “Our recent review of environmental governance showed that in a lot of the territories those aren’t in place.

“Very few if any have transparency legislation, freedom of information doesn’t exist, decisions are made by a Foreign Office appointed governor or by elected council members - but often behind closed doors - and it’s very difficult to know why decisions are made in the way that they are.

“And it does leave administrations open to corruption, and we have seen that in the Turks and Caicos Islands in recent years.

“The fact that these decisions aren’t made openly, it leaves an atmosphere where corruption can occur.”

An inquiry into the Turks and Caicos Islands corruption affair found that it resulted from circumstances very similar to those that are now emerging on St Helena, with the building of an airport attracting outside investors.

In fact, the RSPB’s review has singled St Helena out for praise for the strength of its developing environmental protections, which greatly restrict opportunities for developers to apply undue pressure to obtain Crown land.

But Clare Stringer’s criticisms of secretive government exactly describe the clandestine decision-making that takes place in the shady confines of the Castle in Jamestown.

The refusal to meet openly and make vital documents available for scrutiny means that it is impossible to know how much influence is being applied by unelected officials.

In the past, a St Helena Government official has justified the lack of openness on the basis that it was the same in most other territories.

The RSPB’s concerns were echoed by Dr Mike Pienkowski, who was giving evidence to the MPs as chief executive of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum.

He said: “We are dealing with small communities whose legislative bodies are more on the scale of parish councils, in some cases.

“So it’s really very difficult for them to negotiate or avoid legal but excessive influence by international companies.

“And there are problems with openness and accountability in their systems.”

Dr Colin Copus, Professor of Local Politics at Leicester Business School, said in January that the limited information released about St Helena’s ExCo meetings “may fulfill some element of accountability, but it doesn’t go far.”

He said: “You can only be representative if people know what you are doing. It is just simple and healthy for people to know. It leads to a more informed and engaged citizenry and that is a good thing.”

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Older articles can be read on our Archived Articles page


Footnotes:

{1} And who is also Editor of this website.

{2} John Turner comments: I did explain FoI rather better than that, but I suspect Mr Graham and I were not ‘on the same page’. He was interested in the Government’s system, but I am not. I would only be interested in a genuine Freedom of Information Ordinance.

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


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


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