Eight respond to Freedom of Information consultation

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

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Just 34 responses were received when the government asked for people to give their views about proposed freedom of information leglislation.

In his foreward to the summary of the responses, Chief Minister Allan Bell MHK said the responses were being considered and the Council of Ministers had agreed areas of the Bill that would be reviewed.

He added: ‘Given the significance of the legislation and the efforts made to publicise the consultation, the number of responses may be seen as disappointingly small, particularly when compared to other consultations on issues of public interest.

‘The response level is certainly too low to provide any meaningful statistical feedback in this report, or to draw any definitive conclusions about broader public attitudes to the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act in the Isle of Man.’

The responses came largely from within the public sector, which would be forced to disclose more information. Seventeen government departments, boards or offices and seven local authorities responded. There were two ‘direct consultees’ and just eight from individuals.

The government organisations raised issues of resources and how much any obligation to provide information would cost them.

They supported a phased introduction but were concerned that a 20-day response time would be too short for smaller authorities and that an appeals process could take time and be costly.

They also wanted policy formulation (which government departments would get under the bill) to be extended to statutory boards.

Local authorities were concerned that they would be given less protection than government agencies.

The direct consultees, who are not named in the summary of consultation, were concerned that the act would be weaker than that in the UK, wanted the proposal to charge a fee for complaining to the information commissioner to be dropped and said that the role of the Chief Minister as ultimate arbiter might be seen as being partial.

Most individuals were in favour of the bill’s provisions. Issues raised included support for relaxing the request form, some scepticism about the costs of the legislation and fears that it would give too much power to the Council of Ministers.

The draft FoI Bill will be reviewed before it is submitted again to the Council of Ministers for approval and a Bill introduced to the Keys, probably in the 2014-15 parliamentary year.

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