Bermuda’s Information Commissioner objects to new fee for requests for access to information

Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez

Gitanjali Gutierrez, the information commissioner for Bermuda, has voiced reservations regarding a contentious government proposal to charge for requests made under PATI legislation that was enacted on the island eight years ago.

Only a few of the 136 countries with PATI-style legislation, according to Gutierrez, demanded a fee from applicants.

According to Gutierrez, several of the jurisdictions that did charge a fee also had documents that were simpler to get, which reduced the need for PATI requests. He made this statement to the Royal Gazette newspaper.

She mentioned that several PATI demands, such as those for lists of licensed childcare facilities and restaurant health ratings, had already improved accessibility in Bermuda.

Given the high cost of life on the island, Gitanjali Gutierrez claimed that the additional price would place an additional hardship on individuals who wish to exercise their rights.

She also expressed worry about how the modification would affect privacy.

Before the fees were put in place, Gutierrez said she thought the matter would be open to public comment in order to hear from the community.

The leader of a major human rights organization backed Gitanjali Gutierrez, arguing that Bermudians shouldn’t have to pay a fee to obtain records that are stored in the public domain.

The Centre for Law and Democracy’s executive director, Toby Mendel, told the Gazette that the government’s proposal to implement public access to information fee was “punitive” and intended to discourage inquiries.

On April 1, 2015, the first day of the one-term tenure of the former One Bermuda Alliance administration, the Public Access to Information (PATI) Act 2010 came into force.

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PATI had been promised to be launched in Bermuda by then Progressive Labour Party (PLP) Premier Alex Scott in 2003, but it had taken a long time for that to happen. In 2017, the PLP seized control once more.

The government will begin charging a “nominal” cost for PATI requests, according to Premier and Minister of Finance David Burt, who also announced this year’s budget. Nevertheless, private persons who request information regarding the data the government has on them would not be subject to the fee.

Notwithstanding the lack of information regarding the request or the reasons why it cost so much, he claimed that a government agency had spent more than $300,000 to answer a single PATI request.

The government anticipates that the introduction of PATI fees in the upcoming fiscal year will generate US$50,000, according to Minister of Tourism and Cabinet Office Vance Campbell.

Campbell did not say how much the new fee will be, but he did mention the number as part of his Budget briefing on the Cabinet Office departments on Monday in the House of Assembly.

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