Transparency Saint Helena

Arguing for improved access to the way government takes decisions. In short, the creation of a Freedom of Information Ordinance for St. Helena.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

SATs Results: give us the detail and we'll judge for ourselves

There is some concern that the SATs results, published with such a flourish earlier this week, may not have been as good as they were presented.  (See here for an explanation.)
I did ask the Chief Public Relations Officer for the detailed figure, but apparently “the Director of Education first wishes to report the detailed figures to the Education and Employment Committee”.  That will be weeks away and I guess they hope we’ll have forgotten about it by then.
If the information is available to issue a press release then the information is available.  No ifs and buts.  It should be in the public domain.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Letter to The Editor in today's Independent

The following 'Letter to The Editor' will appear in today's Independent;

Esteemed Editor,

Various routine press releases were issued on Wednesday by SHG under the insulting title, "Open Government".  None of the content is about open government.  It's just called that, sort-of like calling my dog "King".

Is this SHG's idea of how to respond to the Freedom of Information campaign?

FOI isn't about what SHG feels like revealing to the people.  FOI creates a real system of open government based on everything being open to the public.  If SHG believes the public interest wouldn't be served by revealing the requested document, they must justify this using a set of agreed rules.  These are not the Middle Ages and we are not peasants or serfs to gratefully accept whatever bones of improvement are cast our way!

I wonder if, from now on, every time they reveal a minor road accident or that some dog barked three times, they will create a press release bragging about how open they are.  Then, if later some MP asks questions about open government in St. Helena, they'll be able to say they issued 73 such press releases in August, that Saints are impressed with this new openness ("See the happy natives!") and we of the FOI campaign are just a tiny fringe group of radical expats who are insensitive to the native culture and its fine tradition of arrogant and secret government.

It's like passing an ordinance that eliminates the Auditor General and Public Solicitor and calling it "An Ordinance to Eliminate Waste and Streamline the Budget".  They must think Saints are terribly stupid.

London Reader

Friday, July 20, 2012

UK group backs campaign to end secrecy in The Castle

(Reproduced - with permission - from St Helena Online)

A call for more open government on St Helena has been backed by a leading group in the UK.
In a message of support, Katherine Gundersen of the London-based Campaign for Freedom of Information says open, honest debate leads to better decision-making.
It could also help to reduce public distrust of government.
Graphic showing rubber stamps saying "restricted" etc, crossed out
The logo of the Campaign for Freedom of Information
An increasing number of documents are now published on the St Helena Government website, though one executive councillor has told St Helena Online that some departments are less open than others.
But the St Helena Freedom of Information campaign argues that there is a vital gap in the information made available to islanders – and British taxpayers, who provide the bulk of St Helena Government funding.
It says papers going before the island’s executive council should be made public in advance of meetings. In England, that’s required by law. It also wants minutes of meetings made public – not just reports by Governor Mark Capes.
If agendas and reports are published in good time, individuals can scrutinise the information being presented by officials, and make sure that councillors are aware of public opinion before meetings take place.
It also means Saints overseas can keep track of what is happening at home. And it would remove a barrier to reporting by journalists and internet bloggers, which is acknowledged in the recent White Paper on overseas territories as a vital part of maintaining democracy.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information says: “We support efforts to improve public rights to information in St Helena.
“Freedom of information has many important benefits. It strengthens individuals in their dealings with the state. It increases the opportunity to participate in decision-making and enables more informed public discussion.
“The knowledge that the public may be able to see the documents on which decisions are taken helps to deter malpractice and to encourage politicians and officials to be more rigorous in their analysis, improving the quality of decision making.
“It helps to promote more honesty in government, by making it more difficult for public bodies to say they are doing one thing while doing something else.
“Moving towards a more open regime gives government the opportunity to show that it is genuinely acting on behalf of the public; is willing and able to justify what it does; that it tells the truth and deserves the public’s trust.”
Katherine Gunderson has also lent advice to the island campaign, which was initiated by John Turner and backed by the St Helena Independent and St Helena Online.
She advises highlighting examples of unnecessary secrecy and the damage done by it, and also explaining how the rights of the public – not just the media – would be improved by greater access to information.
She points out that very few “serious democratic governments” still reject the freedom of information ideal.
St Helena Online and the St Helena Independent have evidence that some officials resist the case for open government, but there are strong indications that some councillors are very supportive.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


If we get Freedom of Information, do we not also need Data Protection ('DP') as well?

The answer is, probably, Yes.

A Freedom of Information Ordinance would define government data that is to be released to the general public.  A Data Protection Ordinance would control private data and ensure that it is not released to the general public.

So the government, under Freedom of Information, would release ExCo agendas, papers and minutes, but would not - under Data Protection - release personal details like whether or not I am up to date with my electricity bill.

Similarly, a government department - for example, the Bank of St. Helena - would release information about their general lending, but would not release any information about individuals or their loans.

The UK has Freedom of Information and Data protection legislation.  This is largely historical - DP came into force long before FoI.  Here we should maybe have a single Ordinance, covering both.  Discuss.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Vince writes about Freedom of Information

What Are They Doing?
By Vince Thompson, published in today's St. Helena Independent

In the course of countless conversations among Saints the subject under discussion is about something the government is doing or thought to be doing or may be they have given up thinking about doing it or could it be they have forgotten all about it. On similar countless occasions there are instances mentioned of this or that government department not replying to a letter or to an email from someone who is making an enquiry about something. Sometimes there is not even an acknowledgement that a letter has been received. One way to put a stop to this is to have a Freedom of Information Act which puts into law exactly what anybody who wants some information on what the government is doing is entitled to know. As I think we all know, the St Helena Government does not want to bring in any legislation of this kind. There would be far too many enquiries to deal with, too much work involved and it would cost too much.

These seem to be the reasons for their reluctance. It is not at all clear how they arrived at this conclusion. There is evidence to suggest that the government view is an over reaction.

How can we get some indication about work and cost involved? Checking out how similar legislation works in other countries is the most obvious way to start. We could look at how it works in the UK but I don’t think that gives a reliable indication. The UK is too big, Brits are far more politically active and its people can be far more obstinate and determined than many Saints. Some [maybe more than some] say the Brits are a funny bunch. A more suitable place to look is the Cayman Islands. It is a British Overseas Territory, it has an island population spread over three islands which, taken together are three times larger than St Helena. The population of the three islands is about 54,500. That’s at least 13 times more than our own population. The Cayman Islands has an Information Commissioner’s Office. The Information Commissioner is independent of the Cayman government. If a member of the public asks the government for information the law entitles anybody to have and the information is not provided, that person can ask the Information Commissioner to help get the information.

So, how many cases does the Information Commissioner’s Office in the Caymans deal with? In brief, it’s in single figures. Every three months the Cayman Commissioner publishes figures to show what has being dealt with by his Office. The most recent set of statistics tells us that the 54,500 population had given the Commissioners Office the princely total of five cases to deal with during the three months covered by the report. Some work was still going ahead on cases received in the previous months but in no instance were there any more than seven cases being worked on.

Seven cases, from a population of 54,500 is not a staggeringly high number; far from it. I think it is very reasonable to assume that a St Helena Commissioner for Information would have less work to do from a population which is 13 times less than the Caymans. So why does the St Helena Government think that an Information Commissioner here would be swamped with cases to deal with and have to employ loads of people to help deal with the work?

In this week’s Exco Report we are told, ‘Councillors directed that more information should be made available, especially on the projects of most concern to the public, such as the roads programme.’ Can we rely on councillors to get an answer to why our government is so unenthusiastic about introducing freedom of information legislation?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

We have our own website!

The campaign (yes, it's now a campaign!) now has its own website, at - please check it out!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Two items you MUST see!

There are two postings on Simon Pipe's "St Helena Online" blog that you must read:

These will (I assume) also be published in this week's St. Helena Independent, as will a longer piece by Vince.

This campaign also now has it's own email address (website coming soon): - PLEASE email us your comment, concerns, criticisms and messages of support.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

New name - same agenda

This blog has been renamed.  The new name better describes what we are about - getting a Freedom of information Ordinance for St. Helena.  We've also renamed our Facebook page.

And, coming soon: a website !!!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Who are they trying to kid?

The St. Helena Government says we don’t need a Freedom of Information Ordinance because it “keeps to the spirit” of the UK legislation.

What utter nonsense is that?

If they were intending to publish everything, then having the Ordinance wouldn’t be a problem for them, would it?  The fact that they won’t give us an Ordinance shows that “keeping to the spirit” is just a smokescreen.  They publish what they decide to publish – what it’s in their interests to publish – and everything else remains a secret.

Here’s a test.  Next time you’re reading or listening to an ExCo report, listen/read between the lines.  What aren’t they telling us.  For example, “it was agreed that”.  By whom?  Unanimously?  Were there dissenting voices?  Who were they?  What were their arguments?  But all we get is “it was agreed that”, or – sometimes – “after discussion it was agreed that”.   Oh, wow!

This is definitely not even in the spirit of openness!