Updated | Freedom of Information appeals should have kept functioning as normal - ministry

Appeals to decisions of the Information Commissioner cannot be appealed after new tribunal not appointed six momths since Labour’s election

Political parties keep benefiting from favourable terms of payment on utility bills that common clients are not given.
Political parties keep benefiting from favourable terms of payment on utility bills that common clients are not given.

The government has not yet appointed an appeals tribunal for freedom of information requests, six months since its election to power, leaving FOI decisions by the Information and Data Protection commissioner without any right of redress.

MaltaToday's request to the IDPC to force a discloure of what political parties owe the State in unpaid electricity and water bills, was turned down earlier last week.

The IDPC upheld a refusal by the Automated Revenue Management Services (ARMS) to disclose the pending utility bills that Labour and the Nationalist Party owe, on a freedom of information request by MaltaToday.

In an appeal on the decision, MaltaToday submitted that the IDPC had not given proper reasons as to why ARMS were exempted from disclosing this information and that it did not carry out a public interest test as to whether disclosing this information would be beneficial to the public interest.

But the appeal cannot proceed because the government has not appointed a new Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal.

Freedom of Information falls under the responsibility of Helena Dalli, minister for civil liberties and social dialogue.

With the change of government, the members of this judicial body tendered their resignation but unlike similar situations, they have not been informed regarding the new composition of the tribunal.

"Following their resignations, they have no authority to continue hearing cases.  Consequently,  procedures in front of this Tribunal, as constituted, may eventually be declared as null and void," secretary Aldo Testone informed MaltaToday.

"In these circumstances I regretfully inform you that for the time being the Tribunal, as constituted, cannot appoint for hearing your appeal."

On its part, the ministry said that when in March the principal permanent secretary requested all members of government boards and committees to tender their resignation, it had also been made amply clear that until a decision on the offer of resignation was taken, all boards and committees were to continue functioning as normal. 

"The secretary of the Tribunal is incorrect in his statement that 'following their resignations, they have no authority to continue hearing cases'. The members had not resigned but offered to do so, given the change in government. Their appointment remains valid until advised otherwise," the ministry said.

"If the members of the Tribunal needed to clarify their position on this subject they could have easily raised the matter with the ministry concerned. At no point was this matter raised or the ministry informed that the members of the Tribunal were not hearing cases."

Other FOIA requests by MaltaToday to the Office of the Prime Minister have so far been unasnwered by the OPM's private secretariat.

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