The ROI is essentially a record kept of the financial interests of legislators. Its purpose is to facilitate them publicly declaring any private interests which may conflict or may be perceived to conflict with their public duties.
Recent amendments that government made to the ROI Act has established several hurdles for persons wishing to access the register; including requirements for persons to make a written application and to pay a fee. In addition to this, persons will only be allowed to view the Register in the presence of the Registrar and will not be permitted to make any kind of copies or even notes of the contents.
Though those changes successfully passed through the HOA, Governor John Rankin has not granted royal assent to make it into law. In his first quarterly review report on the implementation of Commission of Inquiry (COI) recommendations, Governor Rankin said changes made to the legislation will ‘severely restrict’ public access to the register.
“In my view, these amendments are contrary to the principle of transparency and the intent of both Recommendation B2 and the commitment in the Framework document,” Governor Rankin said in his report issued last week.
But Premier Wheatley, who insisted that these steps were in-keeping with his government’s commitment to transparency, remained adamant that the legislative changes were also unrestrictive. He argued that they were simply instituted to protect the privacy of HOA members.
The Premier argued at a recent press conference that it was not just his view or the governor’s view that mattered, but also the view of the people. “If the people themselves want us to go further, I think that we have the responsibility to go further, I don’t think it restricts access at all,” the Premier said.
Dr Wheatley said although persons are unable to take notes, make copies, or view the register unsupervised, they can still examine it for as long as they wish.
“This provision is not unique. This exists in the Cayman Islands Register of Interests as well,” Premier Wheatley argued while noting that the Cayman legislation received royal assent.
When questioned on whether these measures were appropriate for the digital age the world is currently in, Premier Wheatley responded that the same privacy concerns remain if the ROI was to be digitised.
“I think if it was online, it would require really unhindered and unmonitored access to it. And yes, we are public servants but I think we have to be able to balance our rights to privacy,” Dr Wheatley argued. “Who and how and why persons have access to our personal information [should be] balanced against the public’s right to know certain things.”
He further explained that the aim of lawmakers was ensuring that legislators don’t make decisions to favour their own personal interests.
“So, yes. I understand we’re in the digital age … But we also have to balance that against respecting persons privacy and also their right to have their data protected.”