17 August 2009

Freedom from information: a symptom of ponocchiosis

That would be an inability to recognise realise that what one is saying is humourous because it contradicts the claim:

Oram said verbal briefings aren't an attempt to avoid putting anything in writing.

He said he can't remember if he was supplied with written briefing documents when he took over the business department in 2007.

But of course, not having any written briefing notes is exactly intended to avoid having anything in writing.  That way, there is nothing to contradict cabinet minister Paul Oram’s faulty memory.  In this instance, Oram cannot remember what he did less than two years ago in taking on the single most important job of his working life.  His mind is a complete blank slate.


He would have us believe  - despite having an evidently sieve-like memory - he can successfully administer $2.6 billion in public money and account for his actions when needed.

Paul Oram is not alone.  Joan Burke and likely most of their cabinet colleagues  - update:  the Aural Majority - have adopted the paperless office approach.  The tendency to a paperless ministry is nothing new nor is it confined to Newfoundland and Labrador.  Donald Savoie, among others, has documented the trend and they have also firmly fixed the reason: avoiding accountability.

In itself, that’s a pretty dramatic development for a government that sought office in 2003 on a platform that included accountability and transparency as a cornerstone.   It would also pretty much make a mockery of former deputy minister Doug House’s claim in 2005 that the “Williams government is exceptional in the extent to which its electoral platform, Our Blueprint for the Future (commonly referred to as "the Blue Book") is actually being adhered to in implementing government policies.”

Now, one of the possibilities unexplored by either CBC or The Telegram – both have covered this same issue based on separate open records requests – is that the response from government is actually not completely in accord with the facts.  One of the other tendencies noted over the past couple of years is for government officials to respond to certain access to information requests in a way which is false.

For example, the now infamous case of the purple files, every knows that purple files exist.  The person requesting them saw them.  Both premier and an official of his office have confirmed they exist.  Yet, the official written response was that there were no such records. 

In other instances, officials have invented a category of documents simply to avoid releasing them.

Now at this point, no reasonable person in the province should need convincing that a problem exists and that it needs a solution.  We don’t need to see another story of another cabinet who claims to have a decent memory but who mysteriously can’t recall anything when asked about it.

The only real question is what, if anything, the current administration will do to correct the situation.

They started out with a platform that would have put this province in the forefront of public accountability, openness and government accessibility.  Where they’ve wound up is significantly less accountable, less open and far less accessible to voters than the government they attacked in 2003 with their pledge of 23 positive actions.

The only question right now is:  will they do what they promised six years ago?