Financial policy council exempted from Pati

  • Wayne Furbert, the Minister for the Cabinet Office

    Wayne Furbert, the Minister for the Cabinet Office

Legislation to make a government financial advisory body exempt from public access to information laws was passed on Friday.

The Public Access to Information Amendment Act 2019 excludes the Financial Policy Council from Pati.

Wayne Furbert, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, said the amendment was needed “to protect the financial stability of the country”. He added: “To suggest otherwise is without merit.”

Mr Furbert said the records of the council contain “very sensitive, technical matters, which could have adverse effects on the country, and be subject to misinterpretation, or rumour, if released under Pati”.

He added that the council, the Bermuda Monetary Authority and the Ministry of Finance all had “major concerns” about the possibility of the disclosure of FCP records.

Mr Furbert said problems from disclosure of documents could include “the undermining of the Bermuda dollar paid to US dollar, or a sharp and sudden withdrawal of deposits from Bermuda banks”.

He said that the proposed change to the Pati law had been discussed with Gitanjali Gutierrez, the Information Commissioner.

The Information Commissioner’s Office of Bermuda said last week that Ms Gutierrez believed “that records related to the financial and economic interests of Bermuda are already adequately protected under existing exemptions under the Pati Act, including Section 31”.

Mr Furbert said the Government “respects” Ms Gutierrez’s position and is “still of the view that it is prudent to make this exemption”.

Mr Furbert said the council met three times a year and that a document was published after each meeting which included key issues discussed.

He said that the FPC “will consider an appropriate additional transparency arrangement”.

Mr Furbert added: “This issue will be discussed during upcoming FPC meetings.”

Scott Pearman, the legal affairs shadow minister, said that the Opposition supported the amendment.

However, he questioned the timing of the legal change.

Mr Pearman asked: “Why are we now deciding to put the council’s records beyond the watchful eye of Pati?

“Has there been a Pati request made of the Financial Policy Council, and is that the real reason for this amendment?”

Mr Pearman also asked Mr Furbert to provide a time frame for when “protective legislation” covering the council would be in place.

Walton Brown, a Progressive Labour Party backbencher, said that the Pati legislation was among the most important laws passed in the past 20 years.

He added: “It is critically important that we have this legislation.

“It is something that we should value and something that we should treasure.”

Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance and the chairman of the council, said there had been “robust” conversation with the ICO about the amendments, but that it was important that the FPC be able to give frank opinions.

He added that the Government supported transparency and would look at ways they can release information about the council’s work.

Mr Dickinson said: “We have to be responsible in communicating what we think is appropriate so it doesn’t do anything to create unintended consequences.”

The FCP was created in 2015 to monitor potential risks to the island’s economy and to advise the Government on financial stability.

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Published Jul 17, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 17, 2019 at 6:45 am)

Financial policy council exempted from Pati

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