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New Zealand = MPs may face more scrutiny of spending

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The spending habits of ordinary MPs could become subject to greater public scrutiny if the Official Information Act is extended to cover parliamentary spending as suggested yesterday by Speaker Margaret Wilson.

 

But MPs may find it hard to agree on the extent to which their spending habits should be official information - such as whether an individual's taxi or air travel expenditure should be disclosed.

 

Perk-busting Epsom MP Rodney Hide has welcomed the greater transparency, believing an MP's taxi expenditure should be known - but not individual journeys.

 

Parliament has been exempt from the act since it was passed 25 years ago but Ms Wilson told a law conference in Wellington there was merit in extending it.

 

"It is of importance because the credibility of Parliament is, to some extent, dependent on the ability of members to conduct their own affairs in a manner that is consistent with the public interest."

 

The proviso was that communication between an MP and his or her constituent would remain privileged.

 

However, it is highly unlikely MPs would agree to allow access to detailed information on taxis, air travel, spouses' air travel, accommodation, advertising and other such expenses.

 

They are more likely to allow such expenditure to be available by party rather than by individual.

 

Ms Wilson acknowledged there could be a "prurient interest in who takes taxis and how much they cost" and her speech alluded to problems of accountability within Parliament's bureaucrats, the Parliamentary Service.

 

"It is fair to say that sometimes the reports are opaque and the sums aggregated," she said. "It would, in my view, greatly improve parliamentary administration if there was the discipline of the OIA provisions."

 

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen said the idea was something the MPs on the Parliamentary Service Commission could look at.

 

"It would need cross-party agreement, not something the Government should try to force down the throats of other parties," he said.

 

"The problem is making sure there's protection of privacy around a whole range of issues."

 

MPs dealt with a lot of confidential information and people did not want that in the public arena unless there was sufficient protection.

Ms Wilson said two previous attempts to get Parliament's exemption removed had got nowhere.

 

Official Info

* The Official Information Act exempts officers responsible for Parliament's administration, as well as the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General, from having to respond to requests for information.

 

* The exemptions have been criticised as they mean Parliament is not open to the same scrutiny as other public bodies.

 

MPs may face more scrutiny of spending - 16 May 2007 - Political News - New Zealand Herald

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    • Shrawan
      By Shrawan
      There can be no faith in government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny - they should be setting the example of transparency.
    • Shrawan
      By Shrawan
      CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION




      Appeal No.ICPB/A-1/CIC/2006


      Right to Information Act – Sections 6/18

      Name of Appellant : Satyapal
      Name of Public Authority : CPIO, TCIL

      DECISION


      Decisions appealed against :
       
       
      The CPIO, TCIL has declined to supply a copy of a document on the ground that the same forms part of “file Noting” which, according to CPIO is exempt under the RTI Act. Appellate authority also has confirmed the decision of the CPIO. The appellant contents that he has the right to seek information contained in the “File Notings”.
      Facts
      Shri Satyapal – appellant, a resident of Delhi, applied to the CPIO, TCIL seeking for copies of certain documents by a letter dated 17th October, 2005. By a letter dated 14th November, 2005, CPIO, TCIL furnished copies of certain documents, however, stating that a particular document sought for was a file noting in the Department of Telecom and as such it was exempt from disclosure. By a letter dated 17th Nov. 2005, Shri Satyapal again wrote to the CPIO, TCIL pointing out that the information sought for by him did not fall within the ambit of Section 8 of the RTI Act and as such the same should be supplied. He also brought to the notice of CPIO, TCIL that in respect of information already furnished, a copy of a bill in respect of advertisement relating to independence day 1996 had not been supplied. By a letter dated 28th Nov. 2005, the CPIO, TCIL while furnishing a copy of the bill, once again reiterated that file notings are exempt from disclosure in terms of the clarification given by the Department of Personnel in their website. Aggrieved by this decision, Shri Satyapaul preferred an appeal to the appellate authority by a letter dated 14th Dec. 2005 stating that file notings are not exempt from disclosure in terms of Section 8 of the RTI Act. He followed up the same by letters dated 14th Dec., 31st Dec. 2005 and 5th January, 2006. The appellate authority by a letter dated 5.1.2006 rejected the appeal stating “The information sought by you pertains to the file notings of the Department of Telecommunication as also that of TCIL. I am of the view that TCIL is exempted from disclosing the information sought by you under Section 8(1)(d)&(e) of the RTI Act. UO No.7-17/95-PP dated 4.10.1995 is a part of file notings. You have mentioned in your appeal that the information has been denied misconstruing it as “file notings” by CPIO, TCIL. I confirm that these are notings in the file”. Aggrieved with the decision of the appellate authority, Shri Satyapal has filed this appeal before this Commission. According to Shri Satyapal, there is no specific exemption from disclosure as far as file notings are concerned in Section 8 of RTI Act.
      Commission’s Decision :
      It is seen that while the CPIO declined to furnish the information sought for on the ground that file notings are exempt from disclosure, the appellate authority, without confirming or rejecting the stand of CPIO that file notings are exempt from disclosure, has relied on Section 8(1)(d) and (e) of the RTI Act to deny the information.
      As is evident from the Preamble to the RTI Act, the Act has been enacted to vest with the citizens, the right of access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of any public authority. Conscious of the fact that access to certain information may not be in the public interest, the Act also provides certain exemptions from disclosure. Whether file notings fall within the exempted class is the issue for consideration.
      Section 2(f) defines information as “Any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinion, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law or the time being in force”.
      Section 2(j) reads : “Right to information means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to (i) inspection of work, documents, records; (ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of document or records; (iii) …… (iv) …. “. In terms of Section 2(i) “Record” includes (a) any documents, manuscript and file;
      In the system of functioning of public authorities, a file is opened for every subject/matter dealt with by the public authority. While the main file would contain all the materials connected with the subject/matter, generally, each file also has what is known as note sheets, separate from but attached with the main file. Most of the discussions on the subject/matter are recorded in the note sheets and decisions are mostly based on the recording in the note sheets and even the decisions are recorded on the note sheets. These recordings are generally known as “file notings”. Therefore, no file would be complete without note sheets having “file notings”. In other words, note sheets containing “file notings” are an integral part of a file. Some times, notings are made on the main file also, which obviously would be a part of the file itself. In terms of Section 2(i), a record includes a file and in terms of Section 2(j) right to information extends to accessibility to a record. Thus, a combined reading of Sections 2(f), (i)&(j) would indicate that a citizen has the right of access to a file of which the file notings are an integral part. If the legislature had intended that “file notings” are to be exempted from disclosure, while defining a “record” or “file” it could have specifically provided so. Therefore, we are of the firm view, that, in terms of the existing provisions of the RTI Act, a citizen has the right to seek information contained in “file notings” unless the same relates to matters covered under Section 8 of the Act. Thus, the reliance of the CPIO, TCILO on the web site clarification of the Department of Personnel to deny the information on the basis that ‘file notings’ are exempted, is misplaced.
      However, it is seen from the decision of the appellate authority that he was of the view that TCIL was exempted from disclosing the information sought, under Section 8(1)(d)&(e) of RTI Act. In terms of Section 8, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen information relating to matters covered under subsections (a) to (j) of that Section. Section 8(d) exempts information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property and Sub section (e) exempts information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship. Even then, at the discretion of the competent authority even these information could be disclosed if he is of the opinion that public interest so warrants. From the decision of the appellate authority of TCIL, which is not a speaking one, it is not clear whether the file notings, a copy of which was denied to the appellant, relate to commercial confidence or trade secret or intellectual property or is available to TCIL in its fiduciary relationship.
      Direction :
      Since we have held that file notings are not, as a matter of law, exempt from disclosure, the CPIO, TCIL is directed to furnish the information contained in the file notings, on or before 15.2.2006 to the appellant. However, if the CPIO, TCIL is still of the opinion that the said file notings are exempt under Section 8(d) & (e), he is at liberty to place the file notings before the Commission on 13.2.2006 at 11 AM to determine whether the same is exempt under these sections and even if so, whether disclosure of the same would be in the public interest or not.
      Let a copy of this decision be sent to CPIO, TCIL and the appellant.


      Sd/-




      (Padma Balasubramanian)




      Information Commissioner




      Sd/-




      (Wajahat Habibullah)



      Chief Information Commissioner


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