24 May, 2009

Airport News

With a Freedom of Information Act, Hon Edison Baird would long ago have been able to get the information he has been asking for. The purpose of an FOI Act is to ensure transparency and integrity in public life. So long as public servants and ministers can keep official government business hidden from view, corruption and waste is encouraged. If we had such a law in Anguilla, opposition member of the Anguilla House of Assembly, Eddie Baird, would not have to be pleading with the Minister of Finance to share with us the figures on how much money government has spent on re-housing the people displaced by the airport expansion project. The Minister would not be able to keep stalling from handing over the information, and copies of all the documents related to and supporting the information.

We have all been following the recent debacle in the British House of Commons. I wonder how many of us have recognised the important part that the Freedom of Information Act played in exposing the shenanigans of those parliamentarians?

In the UK, Members of Parliament are expected to live in or near London. If they come from a far-away constituency that means renting or purchasing a second home near Parliament. They are permitted to claim for the expense. A journalist, Heather Brooke, requested of the Speaker’s office copies of “second homes expenses” claimed by Members of Parliament.

Heather Brooke

The Speaker refused to give her the copies of the expense claim forms that she was asking for.

House of Commons

So, she took the case to court under the Freedom of Information Act. She won the case. The court ordered the Speaker’s Office to hand over the information. Before it could be officially handed over, someone leaked the information to the Daily Telegraph Newspaper. The newspaper has gleefully been publishing all the outrageous claims for expenses made by members of all three major parties.

  • Elliot Morley, a former Labour Environment Minister, claimed ₤16,000.00 in mortgage interest for more than 18 months after paying off the loan.

  • Fabian Hamilton declared his mother’s London house as his main residence, allowing him to claim allowance for his real home.

  • John Maples, deputy chairman of the Tory party, declared a room in his private members’ club in Pall Mall has his main home, allowing him to claim allowances on his real home.

Some MPs have been so embarrassed by these revelations that they have announced they will not run again in the next elections. Others have been forced to resign from official positions. The police are investigating to see if any crimes have been committed.

The press and public were up in arms at the efforts of the Speaker, Michael Martin, to suppress the information. Now, even he has announced that he will resign his office, the first Speaker in 300 years to be forced from office.

Hon Michael Martin

The Prime Minister has concluded that Parliament must no longer be permitted to run its own financial affairs. These matters will in future be handled by independent regulators. They will determine even what salary Members of Parliament will be paid.

In future, no sleazy UK politician will be safe from the details of his corruption being revealed to the public.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this scandal has created a revolution in how the British are governed.

All because of the Freedom of Information Act.

Who says we do not need such a law in Anguilla?

Related posts:
12 May 2009: Airport Costs
21 July 2008: Barbados
19 July 2008: FOI Act
4 April 2007: Freedom of Information


  1. Who says we don't need such an act? Our own Chief Minister, a known legal genius and constitutional expert, last July, bragged on the radio that his government does not censor the news, that any newspaper or radio station is free to publish anything they wish, and therefore "We do not need any Freedom of Information Act."

    Often wrong but never in doubt, this is the man who is leading our constitutional review process. God help Anguilla.

  2. That was good. Thanks for the chuckle! - Scotty

  3. i cant get a message in mitch... whats the problem?

  4. A couple of readers have told me they have problems posting comments using IE as their web browser. Mozilla Firefox works for them. Others have problems with Mozilla, but IE works for them. I have no idea what the problem is with posting comments sometimes. If nothing works, send it to me by email, and I will post it for you.

    I do delete posts that are abusive. I also delete those that are so badly typed that they are incomprehensible. Take the time to cut and paste your comments into the comments box. That gives you an opportunity to check syntax and content.



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