New ICO Requirement For Contracts Over $50K
Only 11% of public authorities have gazetted contracts with a value over $50,000 and while some public authorities do not have contracts at this amount, this still reflects fewer contracts than should have been gazetted, and so the ICO will require each public authority to report whether it made this information available to the public.
The Information Commissioner’s Office [ICO] stated this as they explained that they have introduced a new ICO Annual Return for public authorities to “strengthen oversight of compliance with publication and reporting requirements in the Public Access to Information [PATI] Act 2010.”
“When the PATI Act came into effect on 1 April 2015, it created a right for the public to make a PATI request for public records,” the ICO said.
“The PATI Act also created a right for the public to have access to certain information without needing to make a PATI request. This information includes the details of contracts with a value over $50,000, which must be gazetted.
“Public authorities must also have available for the public a PATI request log and quarterly expenditures. The PATI Act also requires every public authority to have an ‘Information Statement’ published that explains the authority’s structure, legislation, programs and records, and identifies the Information Officer who handles any PATI requests. The public authorities must either publish this information or have it readily available to give to the public.”
Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez said, “Since 2015, we have address noncompliance with these requirements on a case-by-case basis when a member of the public made a complaint about a specific public authority. Each time, public authorities have responded positively.
“To date, however, only 11% of public authorities have gazetted contracts with a value over $50,000. Some public authorities do not have contracts at this amount, but this number still reflects fewer contracts than should have been gazetted.
“As I noted in my 2017 Annual Report, the ICO lacked the capacity to systematically monitor compliance for the over 200 public authorities, but we knew it was important to strengthen our oversight in this area.
“Our Office has now overcome that challenge. Starting in 2018, the ICO will require each public authority to report whether it made this information available to the public. We will then ensure that any gaps in compliance are remedied”.
The ICO explained that they “issued a new ICO Annual Return to each public authority that is due back to the Information Commissioner in early January 2019.
“The ICO Annual Return includes statistical data on the public authority’s PATI requests, which the Information Commissioner shares each year in her Annual Report.
“The ICO Annual Return also requires each public authority to confirm whether it has published the details of its contracts over $50,000, and whether it has available for the public its quarterly expenditures and an updated Information Statement. The PATI Act gives the Information Commissioner authority to enforce compliance with the publication requirements, if necessary.”
“The public can expect to see the results of the ICO’s work in two ways. First, they will see an increase in the Notices of contracts in the online Official Gazette, which the Library is also making available in hard copy, and the publication of updated Information Statements on websites and in public authorities’ offices,” stated Information Commissioner Gutierrez.
“Second, the Information Commissioner’s 2018 Annual Report will be tabled in March 2019. I will report on the data we received in 2018 and any actions the ICO has taken in response.”
The Information Commissioner also held her Quarterly Briefing for public authorities this week. Over seventy information officers, heads of authorities and related department heads and CEOs from 47 public authorities attended. The focus of this quarter’s Briefing was to provide those on the frontline of the PATI Act an opportunity to review and discuss the 2018 ICO Annual Return.
“The Briefing helped public authorities understand not only what the return requires but also how it is an important foundation for accountability and fulfilling the good governances aims of our public access to information law”, explained Information Commissioner Gutierrez.
“If necessary, my Office will enforce the PATI Act, but based on our discussions with public authorities so far, I anticipate that public authorities will meet these requirements of the Act as we progress”.
“Another important part of the ICO Annual Return is the opportunity for public authorities to highlight how they have promoted access to their information. We want to share the efforts of public bodies that have embraced the PATI Act and gone beyond its requirements,” stated Information Commissioner Gutierrez.
“We have public bodies that are publishing their meeting minutes, decision making guidelines, and expenditures. We want to recognise their leadership in embracing transparency and accountability in practice, and not just in spirit”.
In her 2017 Annual Report, Commissioner Gutierrez states that “public access to information keeps public authorities operating at their highest level of accountability. It ensures that with each decision, each expenditure, and each program the public is always present. The right to access information is an opportunity for those who are governed to hold accountable those who govern on a daily basis.”
With the launch of this initiative, the ICO said they are “now able to oversee compliance with all obligations under the PATI Act.
“Ultimately public authorities’ compliance with the requirements of the Act will put more information into the public’s hands. This supports an informed public and ensures that public authorities are accountable to the community.”