30 August 2009

Freedom from Information: Whose briefing book is it anyway?

Health minister Paul Oram claimed he didn’t have any briefing notes when he took over the department.

Aural is moral, as the saying went.

Some local media outlets, like the Telegram, went looking for briefing notes and were told by officials they didn’t exist. 

Now, of course it’s not unusual for government officials to be less than truthful in answering media requests for documents.  Back then, the officials said one thing (no documents) but the politician involved – namely no less a personage than the Premier Hisself – said something different (sure we got ‘em).

But in this case, it is way freakin’ spooky that Oram told the Gander Beacon he had a couple of feet of files -  including briefing notes -  to go through  after the officials and Oram had said there was nada in the space marked briefing notes. 

The story now gets off into a whole new realm of bizarre:   Oram is now claiming there were briefing notes but that they weren’t prepared or him. 

And in Oram’s whack-o world, he has time to read through two feet of material prepared “for someone else” but if he had briefing notes with his name on him, he’d never have time to do anything but read briefing notes.


Exactly the reaction one would expect for such an obvious bullshit claim:

There are a bunch of files, and there are a bunch of different issues that sit on my desk every single day. They may not be in the form of a briefing note, but everything is filed and documented - there' a paper trail for everything."

Briefing notes are sent through his department on a constant basis, but Minister Oram said they are not prepared for him.

"I didn't ask for somebody to give me a load of briefing notes so I would start going through them," he said. "If I had to do that, that's all I'd do - read. I just don't have the time to go read every single formal briefing note that there is. But I do have the time to sit and have someone explain to me what we have on right now, and then I go through the files we have there."

All of this is in aid of defending efforts by the Oral Majority – i.e. the cabinet – that appear to be designed to circumvent laws in the province aimed at making government information available to the public.  Oram’s been at this a while:  recall that he earlier denied that not putting things in writing was not a way of not putting things in writing.

And again, your heads are clearly twisting trying to make sense of the ministerial confusion over such a simple thing as whether or not there are briefing notes Oram is reading in order to get up to speed on his new responsibilities.

It’s not like we asked him to recount recent history or anything.