Isle of Man’s slow progress on FOI

Flag of Isle of Man

After four years in the works, Manx chief minister warned that a Freedom of Information law would be expensive to maintain.

In the last sitting of the House of Keys June 28, chief minister Tony Brown said the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information – the self-governing Crown Dependency’s current regulation “has served this island very well,” and added that ministers would have to consider whether they were willing to take on the cost.

Brown said the government would have to spend £1 million a year to administer the law, and a further £2 million to set it up.

General elections in Isle of Man will take place September 29, so the bill will be passed on to the next chief minister and council. The last sitting of Tynwald, the island’s parliament, was July 12.

Roger Tomlinson, chair of the Positive Action Group, a political pressure association that has been actively lobbying for the passage of the law in Isle of Man for five years said the FOI bill was not a priority for the Council of Ministers.

The Manx public has been let down by this administration which claims to be open and accessible. Mr Brown has effectively filibustered the Bill. In this modern world It is important that people are allowed reasonable access to information on a statutory basis. We are being denied that same right. Mr Brown and his colleagues in [the Council of Ministers] ought to be ashamed of the way this legislation has been effectively sidelined.

Plans for a law in Isle of Man began four years ago with a public consultation and the beginnings of a Draft Bill that same year. But the initial momentum didn’t persist. The Draft Bill was again brought forward for public consultation three years on, and had a first reading in the June sitting of the House of Keys.

When prodded by Cannan, who asked why the bill was “not a matter of priority,” Brown responded the bill was a “complex piece of legislation” and needed much public input.

The proposed bill contains exemptions similar to UK’s 2005 Freedom of Information Act, according to the BBC.

All this talk of cost is reminiscent of Jersey’s recent debate about its own law – where its over £5 million yearly cost seemed to mar its prospects of survival.

Jersey’s FOI law was passed May 4 – to the surprise of many – but the States Assembly decided it would not go into effect until the end of 2015.

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