St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign News

Information on recent events

 

Here you can read news items related to St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign.

Index:


Ordinance status (December 2016)

The following is an email exchange with Councillor Lawson Henry in December 2016, referring to the exchane in February and requesting a progress update:

Since that update things have moved on and we now have a working group Chaired by Councillor Mike Olsson who I have asked to update me, but at last update they are on target for bringing the draft bill to LegCo{1} before the end of this council. In fact there will be two bills: beside FOI and supporting legislation one of which will be data protection for other public records.

As soon as I hear back from Mike I can give you a more fuller update. What is now good is that officials have accepted this legislation is needed so we have a Representative from the AG’s Chambers on the group and Governor Phillips is very supportive.

Then:

Further to my previous message, I understand the FOI draft legislation has been completed and work is being done to do the Data Protection. As soon as this second draft is ready it will go to public consultation. I have asked Mike to see if this can be done in time for a planed LegCo{1} in February, but timing is tight; if not then at the budget session.

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An Ordinance at last? - UPDATE (April 2016)

We have been advised that the proposed Freedom of Information Ordinance is currently scheduled to be put to LegCo{1} in February 2017.

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An Ordinance at last? (February 2016)

On Tuesday 16th February, at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, Councillor Lawson Henry announced that he and Councillor Pamela Ward-Pierce are working on a Freedom of Information Ordinance for St Helena.

He said that it was “currently being drafted” and that it should be out for consultation “later this year”.

Naturally the Freedom of Information Campaign welcomes this, and looks forward to seeing the consultation draft of the legislation.

We trust it will include:

  1. an unequivocal right for the public to access non-personal Government information;

  2. automatic publication of all Government decisions, including details of all the options considered, how the options were weighted, and why the chosen solution is the best;

  3. a truly independent Information Commissioner to whom the public can apply if their request for Information is refused.

We await developments!

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Letter to The Editor (March 2015)

The following letter was published in the St Helena Independent on 20th March 2015:

Dear Mike,

You may remember that, around this time in 2013, I started making a fuss about Freedom of Information. Two years on and we are no closer to having it. So I’d like to ask: Why will our Government not give us Freedom of Information?

It sometimes surprises visitors that on St Helena we don’t have it. Elsewhere Freedom of Information is treated as natural. It says that citizens (you and me) have a legal right to demand to see how Government decisions were taken, what evidence was considered, what arguments were made for and against, etc. If you don’t get the information you can take the office concerned to court. European Countries and the USA all have Freedom of Information legislation; indeed a total of 71 countries have it.

But we don’t have it. We would have been covered when the UK passed its Freedom of Information legislation in 2000, but our Government took action to “dis-apply it”, that is to make sure we were not allowed Freedom of Information here. Under pressure, last year it put in place a “Freedom of Information Policy”, but this is so weak it’s useless - it basically says you can ask for information but the Government will decide if you can see it or not. So fifteen years after the UK Act, still no Freedom of Information laws here.

Why not? The Government argues it would be expensive and involve a massive bureaucracy but that really isn’t true. Pitcairn Island has Freedom of Information for 56 inhabitants, and if they can make it work, so can we. So what can be the Government’s REAL objection?

One is forced to conclude that our Government has something to hide.

If the way the Government takes decisions were to be exposed to public scrutiny, it would need to make sure the decisions it took were fair, just and supported by the evidence. If it won’t give us Freedom of Information, what can we assume other than that its decisions are NOT fair, NOT just, or NOT supported by the evidence? Otherwise, why would it object to Freedom of Information?

So it seems to me that our Government is telling us it decides things based on criteria other than fairness, justness and the evidence. One wonders what these criteria might be? Unless someone can explain to me otherwise.

John Turner
Jamestown

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New SHG FoI Policy (September 2014)

The new SHG policy “Public Access to SHG Information Code of Practice” becomes effective on 1st September 2014.

Quoting from the policy paper:

SHG is committed to providing accurate and timely information to the public in accordance with the principles of open and transparent government. It achieves this in many ways through the routine provision and publishing of public information and by interaction with the media.

Information will be provided unless one or more of the Exceptions listed in this code applies.

The exceptions are:

In all cases, SHG reserves the right to withhold information as per these exceptions and for any other valid and stated public interest reason not so listed. Whenever a request for information is refused, SHG will provide a reason for the refusal.

However, the general principle is that information will be released unless the harm to the interest protected by the exception outweighs any public interest in disclosure. Public interest here equates to the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in the St Helena Constitution.

With regard to response times the policy states:

SHG aims to respond to all requests within a period of 20 working days following receipt by the Executive Manager Corporate Services of a valid written request under the code.

You can download the policy from our Documents page.

Feedback on the new policy

The St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign group has the following comments on the new policy, focussing - unsurprisingly - on the exceptions:

“This is pure lip-service. The exemptions are so over-arching, I cannot come up with any category or type of document which can actually be disclosed. SHG’s appetite for the red ‘Confidential’ stamp would exclude most disclosure from the outset. I am sure that SHG will make a huge propaganda spectacle out of these ‘guidelines’ and they can control their disclosure at their pleasure, just as before.”

“All FoI schemes have exemptions. In good schemes there is a genuinely neutral person to balance the reasonableness of the exemption with the importance of public disclosure. In the present cut-rate scheme, this person is missing.”

“Our goal was to have real FoI that works for Saints. I see the present proposal as a good step in that direction.”

To summarise the group’s views are:

  1. This is a step in the right direction, and is worthy of praise;

  2. Exactly how big a step it is remains to be seen; we will judge that by experience;

  3. We remain committed to having a proper functioning FoI Ordinance in place as soon as possible.

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LegCo Motion for 14th October 2013 (October 2013)

Executive Councillor Ian Rummery has put the following motion before LegCo{1} for its sitting commencing 14th October 2013:

That this House resolves to improve openness and transparency within Government by adopting a presumption of openness within all Government directorates and the Council. That every reasonable effort will be made to make information available by publishing it, or providing it on request, save those relating to national security, law enforcement (that would prejudice the prevention or detection of crime), commercial interests (that would prejudice the commercial interests of an individual or business) legally privileged information and personal information.

This fulfils his pre-election pledge to “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.” The St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign team trusts that all the other councillors who made this pledge will support this motion and that it will be carried unopposed.

UPDATE: The motion above was passed unanimously by LegCo{1} on 14th October 2013.

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Open Government Standards (September 2013)

Access Info Europe{2}, has published three consultation documents setting out proposed standards for Open Government. We think these should form the basis of work on St Helena’s Freedom of Information legislation. We have consolidated these into a single document which can be read here. Please contact us with your comments.

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Public Meeting, 9th September 2013 (September 2013)

A public meeting was held on Monday 9th September 2013 at the Jamestown Community Centre. Hosted by councillors Ian Rummery and Lawson Henry, present were also most of the other councillors, government officials, St Helena’s Human Rights Coordinator and myself (John Turner) on behalf of the St Helena FoI Campaign.

Following the meeting I posted the following on our Facebook Page:

The meeting this morning was entirely positive. I’m sure that Freedom of Information legislation for St Helena is only a few months away. Agreed next steps are to put the matter into the hands of a Council Committee who will work on: the parameters for defining what should remain secret (e.g. personal data); how government departments will format data for publication (a plea was made for Plain English!); who should adjudicate in the event of a dispute as to whether something is released or not; and drafting the necessary Ordinance. Ian Rummery has said he will circulate notes of the meeting and I will post these here on receipt. In the meantime Council continues to operate on the basis of openness: that data should be published unless there is a good reason not to - a welcome change!

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Responses from Prospective Councillors - Final (July 2013)

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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. . . and Derek Thomas (May 2013)

Derek Thomas, an existing councillor who has announced he is re-standing, has given his support to the pledge to ‘... 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?’

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As do Nigel Dollery and Eddie Duff (Gavin Ellick) (May 2013)

Nigel says:

As far as FOI goes we have seen its effect in the UK and, as far as I am concerned, it is all positive. I have raised this matter as an individual with SHG, including the Governor, in the past. I have had experience of this relating to Saint status and outstanding electricity accounts. I am aware the UK model is very expensive but in a large economy they can afford it. As far as St Helena goes I see no reason the training for it should not start now. All it would take is a simple statement from SHG that all information must be made available to interested members of the public with the odd, clearly identified, restriction. Because of how I think SHG, our current Councillors and officials have behaved in the past I think we must keep a close eye on the ways they will try try and get round it. I am quite sure we will hear the words "Commercial-in-Confidence" a lot, when they really mean “We do not want you to know”. Legislation can then be started in a more user-friendly environment.

and Eddie says:

Would like to do more plus with our human rights as well

The St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign welcomes their addition to those committed to FoI and hopes to hear comments from other candiates.

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Lawson also Supports FoI (May 2013)

Lawson Henry [St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign:St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign News]

Lawson Henry has also declared himself to be a candidate for the 2013 General Election. In an email exchange with John Turner{5} Lawson says:

I had intended to contact you after reading your second letter referred to above. I can confirm to you that Freedom of Information (FOI) will be one of my main campaign platforms if not the most important one. [...] There is absolutely no reason why we should not have this legalisation on our statue books but there are as you know many reasons why we should.

I therefore [...] make the same pledge that Ian as done already that I too, if elected will work towards a bill to introduce FOI within 3 months of been elected. You have my unequivocal ‘Yes’.

The St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign welcomes Lawson’s commitment to FoI and looks forward to hearing comments from other candiates.

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Rebecca Speaks Out (May 2013)

The following letter was printed in the St Helena Independent{4}:

Dear Editor,

Bravo to the Freedom of Information Campaign (letter to Independent of 28th March) and last week’s letter writers: John Turner, ‘Contributed’ author and Ian Rummery.

I agree with you, your feelings echo my own. I also share the belief that we cannot move forward as a community to tackle the many issues the island faces without Freedom of Information, as has been brilliantly explained by the FOI Campaign (http://sthelenafoi.org).

The Government Vision is laid out in the Sustainable Development Plan that, “charts our course for the next 10 years” and seeks to achieve “strengthened community and family life through vibrant economic growth, a healthy environment and with opportunities for all to participate, within a framework of effective government and law”. Governance is one of the key sectors where results are expected with the intention that “the island’s Government is accessible and democratic and delivering services in an open, fair and legitimate manner”. Does this mean that our Government does aspire to the principles of FOI? Though, words like transparency, public participation and collaboration are not mentioned at all in the document.

So why has there been so much resistance, as explained by the FOI campaign (28th March 2013) to engage in discussion on bringing forth FOI? And why is there no clear indication of intent by government to work towards it? Does government aspire to some of the elements of FOI but not all, and if not all, what does it not like? Under the title of Governance, I also note with interest “The people of St Helena and its government rely on means of communication to facilitate a two-way dialogue”. “Communications on the island will be improved due to the establishment of a new, independent, community owned Media Company”. Now we have two new, independent, community owned, media companies, that dialogue should be even better. Not forgetting the other ways that people and organisations can be given opportunities to communicate and engage with Government.

Today’s school leavers have never known life without the Internet. They are used to having access to information at their fingertips. After everything they have learnt at school, will it make sense to them that they are also living in an age on St Helena where transparency in public life is not available?

I think we need to embrace FOI now, at this the most important time in the island’s modern history, the establishment of air access, when life for everyone is changing? Adopting FOI will help to establish an environment of openness and trust that encourages people to work together. Which will be better than a government driving change and considering after the event of becoming a more open government that has the risk of increasing the political disengagement and creating a disaffected community. This is a time when we need to be working together more than ever to make sure the community and the island is in a better position to cope, plan for and manage the opportunities and options we will now have. Here we are at a critical point of island history, will we succeed in improving the quality of community and family life or fail miserably at the first hurdle? Openness, transparency in decision- making and accountability are all essential elements that are needed to develop mutual respect and establish trust without which the community will not be able to thrive. I believe FOI is a vital first step towards achieving that by building trust. It might be difficult at first but it must be worth it?

In his letter published in the Independent of 26th April, John Turner proposed a way in which the public can give their support to establishing Freedom of Information on St Helena. That was to vote only for candidates that support Freedom of Information and promise to bring forward a Freedom of Information bill within 3 months of being elected. I think that is a great idea. I want to see a FOI act and will lend my voice, through my vote to that.

Ian Rummery is running for election and has publicly lent his support to the establishment of a FOI Act for St Helena. He is the first candidate to do so. Thank you Ian. I hope those persons also considering becoming a candidate will do the same. Ian won’t be able to achieve this on his own and will need to work, if he’s elected, with like minded colleagues and the electorate, on this issue and the many other issues and challenges of office. Perhaps the FOI campaign will help to re-ignite interest in politics and give fuel to unite the community to work better together to bring about the changes that will really help the island and people make the best of the potential that these changing times present? Yours sincerely,
Rebecca Cairns-Wicks

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HRCBC publishes FoI Leaflet (May 2013)

The St Helena Human Rights Capacity Building Committee has published a leaflet on Freedom of Information and the related Human Rights issues.

The St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign welcomes the publication of this leaflet as a contribution to the debate.

You can download a copy from our Documents page.

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Ian Supports FoI (April 2013)

Ian Rummery [St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign:St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign News]

Ian Rummery has declared himself to be a candidate for the 2013 General Election and has put Freedom Of Information high on his agenda. In a letter published in the St Helena Independent{3} he says:

I am concerned by the lack of trust between sections of our community. I believe strongly that we require a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) to help restore trust. Access to information is a fundamental human right. There is nothing unique about St Helena that would prevent it from having such legislation. Other small islands do and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has a policy paper on FOI and small states advocating FOI:

“An individual’s right to request and receive information is crucial in promoting and sustaining transparency and accountability within government.”

FOI is something that I am committed to.

Ian Rummery
Tel: 3744
Email: rummery.ian@gmail.com
Facebook: Vote Ian: Working for St Helena, working for you

On his Facebook Page Ian also wrote:

Since putting my letter in the papers have received a number of messages of support and people stopping me in the street. I aim to make Freedom of Information (FOI) one of the defining issues of the election. We have been kept in the dark for too long!

The St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign welcomes Ian’s commitment to FoI and looks forward to hearing other candiates’ views.

 

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Retired news items can be read on the ‘News Archives’ page.


Footnotes:

{1} ‘Legislative Council’, effectively the island’s parliament.

{2} A human rights organisation dedicated to the promotion and protection of the right of access to information in Europe and the defence of civil liberties and human rights with the aim of facilitating public participation in the decision-making process and demanding responsibility from governments.

{3} Volume VIII, Issue 20, Friday 26th April 2013.

{4} Volume VIII, Issue 21, Friday 3rd May 2013.

{5} Member of the St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign and author of the letter published in the St Helena Independent{3}.


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


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