Cabinet secrecy may be lifted

| 26/02/2013

rolston good.jpg(CNS): The strict secrecy of what goes on behind Cabinet’s closed doors may soon be relaxed, according to the deputy premier, who says that he would like to see government publish a Cabinet newsletter. Rolston Anglin said at a public debate at the UCCI last week that he believed the twenty year restriction before details and documents from the inner government circle meetings can be released is too long, and on Thursday he said that, while actions from Cabinet eventually come into the public domain through the gazette, laws or public policy papers, it would be far better to release the information in more cohesive way.

Speaking at the weekly press briefing, he said that most of what happens in Cabinet could easily be made public after the meetings, summarising the key issues. While issues that related to national security or were commercially sensitive should remain under wraps, Anglin said there was no reason why much of the rest could not be in the public domain in some form of journal or minutes.

Anglin said he did not know why such a policy had not been implemented during the last three years that he had been in Cabinet but he said he had put the idea forward, adding that the blanket twenty year ban on the release of all information was too long.

While a lot of what happens in Cabinet meetings, such as regulation changes, are eventually reported via the gazette, in a time of more open and transparent government the public should not have to wait for that when government could easily share timely and significant information in a more comprehensive manner, he said. “Why have such a piecemeal approach?” he asked rhetorically.

During the UCCI debate Anglin said the Cabinet needed to reform the legislative framework towards a right to know environment and all ministries should be publishing more information and not waiting on freedom of information requests. He also said the minutes of all public authority meetings should be published.

Whether or not there was support for the idea of more openness during the past administration, it appears that if the next government is made up of independents, the opposition, the new interim members or a mix of all three, the issue could gain traction, since most of the candidates who took part in the UCCI debate on Wednesday night supported the release of Cabinet information.

Wayne Panton, who is running with the PPM in Bodden Town, pointed out very succinctly why government should be far more transparent, including revealing what happens in Cabinet to the public. “It’s about the people’s business,” he said.

Currently, Cabinet is made up of the five elected government ministers, plus the governor, his deputy and the attorney general. When the group meets it decides government business, such as which laws will go to the Legislative Assembly and government policy.

Some decisions are discussed in public almost right away when they become policies or plans, such as the recent national health and national education strategies. Laws also become public documents, as do regulation changes, when they are gazetted. However, the Cabinet does not publish its agenda or minutes and discussions and deliberations usually remain secret.

Category: Politics

Comments (7)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    While you are being open and honest, Rolston, can you now remember who that woman was who was in the car with you??

  2. Anonymous says:

    Minister  Anglin, it is  a demcratic position taken, when our country becomes fully informed of the decisions/rejections made by Cabinet. It gives the  public an insight and how to evaluate  the country's standing.    As you know, this secret breaking by Cabinet may at sometime require input from the public and they are not fully informed on the pros and cons of  the outcome of  the matte at hand.  Several secret processes of Cabinet comes  to mind, (1)  the Status Grants, (2) Dart deals (3) Port project (4) Budgetary problems, and others too numerous to think and remember about. you needed the concensus of the people of the country. 

    At the end of the day we look forward to changes within the four year life of Ministers, MLAs, who may want to follow on the predecessors  foundation laid.  Positively, there will be no more distruction or trails of Cabinet papers – all an open book for those coming after.   

     

     

  3. Donnie says:

    I am happy to see this matter being raised but note that the core issue has not been mentioned.

    Having been a proponent of this legislation, I was extremely disappointed when the Cabinet-of-the-day could not be convinced that our legislation (the Freedom of Official Information Law) should be "information based" rather than "document or record based".

    While all such legislation seeks to enhance the public's knowledge of official activities, the culture of secrecy has caused many governments to seek to hold on to records of their own deliberations. This is much more easily accomplished when what is exempted from being accessed by the public is prescribed in terms of documents or records rather than in terms of information.

    The legislative model which I favoured, and still do, is that of New Zealand which defines all exemptions in terms of the nature of information and not in terms of records or documents. It has served them well for just over 30 years. In turn, the word 'Cabinet' does not appear in their law because nothing is exempt simply because it is the property of the Cabinet. If Cabinet deals with a matter, information about which would otherwise be accessible to the public, that information should not be inaccessible simply because it is contained in a record that is the property of the Cabinet.

    While Cabinet is entitled to some 'privacy' to conduct its deliberations, I have always held the view that the information about those deliberations needs to be accessible by the public once the deliberations have been concluded. It is only by institutionalising such a regime that the bar will be raised to the appropriate level in both the quality and objectivity of:

    • the information and advice that Cabinet receives before it engages in deliberations on an issue; and
    • the decision that Cabinet takes on that issue.

    While our FOI legislation has been a significant step forward, there is much more to be reaped from it if we can elect legislators who are sufficiently committed to raising the standard of public administration to where they are prepared for us to see why they have taken the decisions that they have taken – supposedly in our best interest.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Suddenly its "open" Government!

    Tells you a couple of things doesnt it? First, theres an election coming, and second, either there has been a sudden falling of scales from the eyes about accountability, or, it shows how much they did what their ex leader told them. He didnt even believe in telling stuff after the event, let alone during!

    Either way, doesnt make them worthy of a vote!

  5. Michel says:

    I am glad that Capt. Bryan is running with the Progessives in West Bay. Finally with all the great potential candidates, West Bay is finally being offered a quality choice to put an end to blatant range of vote buying thru various ways and make the people dependant on them. It's better to teach a man to catch a fish, then give him one. God Bless, Michel Lemay

  6. Anonymous says:

    A newsletter?? Oh Please….

    It does not need a news letter which can be jazzed up to say anything and nothing, it needs accurate and open reporting of what the hell is going on in cabinet, what governement is doing, open and transparent finances and so on. A newsletter he says!! Imagine.".today minister Blah Blah gave flowers to his mother" and "Cabinet today talked very nicely to each other"

     

    What secrets are there here to keep? Military (errr, none). Nuclear? (errr, none). There is nothing here that should be hidden at all. If it is hidden here now and not transparent you can bet your bottom dollar it is corrupt and thieving. Everything should be in the open here. Only way to stop the crooks.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes it will be like those very informative (not) minutes of the Chief Officers' meetings