(800) 995-8696

British Columbia transparency and open government breaches come under scrutiny

March 6, 2013

Information watchdogs in British Columbia recently discovered that the province's government offices are forgoing documenting some key decisions and discussions, avoiding public scrutiny and potentially breaching open and transparent government laws. According to the Times Colonist, there is evidence of "oral government" practices going on - the avoidance of document discussions and decisions - in a significant portion of BC government operations.

"Without a duty to document, government can effectively avoid disclosure and public scrutiny as to the basis and reasons for its actions," Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in her report, according to the news source. "The lack of documentation undermines the ability of citizens, journalists and the public to understand the basis for government's actions on any particular matter. The premier's office made very clear representations to me that any records that could have been created could have been transitory and destroyed, or they conducted interviews verbally and by phone and didn't create records."

Denham noted several instances where journalists requested information that failed to turn up any documents, even in regards to major decisions that were made, such as the resignation of the province's Chief of Staff Ken Boessenkool. In fact, a review of the past year found that about 45 percent of information requests failed to uncover a paper trail "of any kind."

Despite these numbers, the Open Government Ministry in British Columbia recently reported that the number of Freedom of Information requests to the premier's office that received positive results increased by nearly 200 percent over the past three years. However, there have been various efforts that could have affected open and transparent government success in either direction, according to the news source. Before the Freedom of Information efforts took effect, the BC government implemented centralization of data efforts that improved access to information and also highlighted missing records more clearly.

Ultimately, improving the accessibility and accurate recording of information and government decisions is a multi-step process that can be considerably time consuming. Agencies and offices need to invest in the right support system to streamline the flow of information and ensure that everything is recorded as needed, then focus on public access. IQM2's high-quality meeting management solutions provide the foundation for the recording and accessibility of data, but it is up to the government to take the next step after that.