Government has nothing to fear from Freedom of Information Act, says Minister

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

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Government has nothing to fear from Freedom of Information.

That was the message from Policy and Reform Minister John Shimmin as he asked Tynwald to close an unintended loophole in the legislation.

The Freedom of Information Act comes into effect from February 1 next year, but initially only in respect of the Cabinet Office and the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture.

It will then be extended in stages over the following two years to other departments and all public authorities, including local authorities, and is due to be fully in force by February 1, 2018.

But in Tynwald this week Mr Shimmin, sought an amendment to prevent the initial restrictions being undermined. He explained that as many human resources functions and Government Technology Services come under the Cabinet Office, people might have tempted to use that link to request information relating to other departments or public bodies.

But Tynwald unanimously approved an amended order that only information specific to GTS held by the Cabinet Office for its own purposes would be subject to FOI, and similarly only human resources information listed in the schedule of public bodies would be available.

Mr Shimmin told the court: ‘Government is slowly realising they should have nothing to fear from this. Across departments and offices, politically, we have built up an air of fear and suspicion among our own staff as well as the public. And that will take a bit of time.

‘Tynwald has dictated the speed of this. We will have all government departments on by the start of 2017. However, I would like to move quicker if some departments will come on board earlier.

‘We will be getting more data available for the public and that is a little bit scary for some officers and even Ministers. We have to make sure the officers believe that this is not going to be a witch hunt against them. They work with us to actually get the information out to where it belongs – to the people.’

Lib Van MHK Peter Karran (Onchan) said he believes FOI might save rather than lose money as it would help get good governance and better value for money.

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