“No Minister should be using any private unsecured email accounts for any official business whatsoever…”

Some, presumably, unintentionally revealing details from the former Northern Ireland Finance Minister, Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who appeared in front of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Inquiry yesterday.  This from his written statement [pdf file]  16.  The bundle of documents referred to above appears to indicate that you used the email account [email protected] to discuss, share, transact, or otherwise communicate Executive business and Executive policy; and that you discussed, shared, transacted, or otherwise communicated Executive business and Executive policy with …

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“A feature of the devolved administration here has been that the two main parties have been sensitive to criticism…”

The BBC reported a telling admission from the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, during the RHI Inquiry yesterday. Mr Sterling said the practice of taking minutes had “lapsed” after devolution when engagement between civil servants and local ministers became much more regular. But he said it was also an attempt to frustrate Freedom of Information requests. Mr Sterling said ministers liked to have a “safe space where they could think the unthinkable and not necessarily have …

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Governance issues around remuneration hits the Irish Farmer’s Association midship

NEW BROOMS: The revelation that General Secretary Pat Smith’s pay packet was as high as €535,000 per year was followed two days ago with news that the President Eddie Downey was paid €147,000 per year. The average annual income for small farmers in the west is around the mid €20,000s. This may be only the beginning of a long soul searching journey.

Did you hear the one about the politicians who didn’t want their photos taken? Local Government Bill (updated)

MLAs have been starting to debate the Local Government Bill and six groups of amendments – totalling 115 – at today’s plenary session of the Assembly. A lot of worrying about photographs being taken of councillors with their eyes closed and being misconstrued as being asleep. Is this the first time in history that councillors have not wanted their picture taken? Update – amendment failed. A lot of worrying about the cost of audio equipment and staff time to record …

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Will the draft Local Government Bill expand NI council accountability and transparency?

Following on from last week’s post about council accountability and transparency, let’s take a look at the draft Local Government Bill which is current at the committee stage in the NI Assembly. (I’ll also reference NILGA’s response to the draft bill, though it should be noted that the membership of the NI Local Government Association will skew the organisation’s reaction to the draft legislation through the lens of councillors and council executives rather than the public.) As well as covering …

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Could new councils be more transparent from the start? Pickles, Castlereagh & a journalist ejected for tweeting

In England … Local government secretary Eric Pickles issued a guide in June to remind English local authorities that under The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012 they must allow the public to film and record meetings. He said: Every decision a council takes has a major impact on the lives of local people so it is crucial that whenever it takes a significant decision about local budgets that affect local communities whether it …

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#G8, transparency, tax and “the soft bigotry of low expectations…”

On tax, and transparency, here’s the final communique from Lough Erne. Ten “shoulds”, all of them ‘good things’, based on self reporting. Ah, “the soft bigotry of low expectations” says Joseph Cotteril. No imminent world government then? As The Economist noted last week: …offshore centres such as the Cayman Islands and Jersey, corporate service providers have had to collect ownership information since they first came under international pressure a decade ago, though they are sometimes slow or unwilling to turn it over …

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Hiding your Publication Scheme defeats the purpose of having one … and raises your costs through needless FOIs

Publication Schemes are supposed to publicise what information a public body holds and regularly makes available. The Information Commissioners Office have a Model Publication Scheme for District Councils in Northern Ireland, listing the type of information that they must make available. You should publicise the fact that information is available to the public under the scheme. You should make sure the model scheme, guide to information, and schedule of fees are all available on your website, public notice board, or …

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Can you see your tax dollars at work? Boosting accountability, efficiency and transparency the Louisville KY way

How accountable and how transparent should public bodies be? Whether council departments within local government, Executive departments or their arms length bodies, do you wish you could see how your money – your taxes and rates – were being spent? These organisations all produce annual reports and high level financial figures. Relatively few councils seem to publish any form of targets – other than perhaps recycling levels – and show regular progress towards or away from those figures. Progress reported …

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Will Irish government’s transparency law make it to law before major asset sell off?

Interesting proposal from Brendan Howlin yesterday, aimed at identifying lobbyists who make contact with Ministers. It’s a particularly hot issue given the nature of some of the major cases studied by the Mahon tribunal: A two-year “cooling-off” period for public servants or ministers before they can work in the private sector or any area with a potential conflict of interest with their former area of public employment; A statutory register of lobbyists that would record the dates of all forms …

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Priestly’s return…

The Northern Ireland Department of Regional Development Permanent Secretary, Paul Priestly, was suspended on full pay in August last year.  The former Permanent Secretary of the Welsh Assembly, Sir Jon Shortridge, was appointed by the head of the NI Civil Service, Sir Bruce Robinson, to lead the investigation into Priestly’s role in the NI Water saga – but with somewhat restricted terms of reference.  The fall-out from that saga is now being felt in a wider political arena. Sir Jon Shortridge reportedly concluded his investigation in November. …

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“nor does it sit comfortably with the transparency expectations of a modern society”

As the BBC reports, in response to a written question from TUV leader, Jim Allister, MLA, the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford, has revealed that, in the last 4 years, there have been 4 ‘super-injunctions’ granted in Northern Ireland – that is, court orders made “prohibiting publicity on the granting of injunctive relief”.  From the BBC report The North Antrim MLA said he hoped the information “may stimulate some necessary debate” on the issue. “The mystery and secrecy surrounding injunctive relief …

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vote early, check how it was counted often

Continuing on from a post on 1 November about “faith-based” e-voting. Some interesting ideas from David Bismark at TEDGlobal 2010 about e-voting that tries to simultaneously increases transparency and reduces fraud. One of the main objections to e-voting is that it’s difficult for each voter to know that her vote was recorded accurately and counted correctly, while she remains anonymous. In the system designed by David Bismark and his colleagues, each voter gets a takeaway slip that serves as a …

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Political Innovation no 4: See Change – opening policy research to the public

This is a guest cross-post by Ivo Gormley – originally posted on the Political Innovation site here. Although Government claims to want our participation and wants us to appreciate its policies, it hides the evidence on which it bases its policies in fat documents and reports that are hard to read and only available free at special events at think-tanks around Whitehall. If we want participation in politics in a way that goes beyond choice we need to share policy …

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Political Innovation no 3: Assertion-flagging: for less partisan, prejudiced blogging

This is a guest cross-post by Andrew Regan – originally posted on the Political Innovation site here. Most political bloggers are motivated to fight what they see as bigotry, prejudice, and ill-informed, unjustifiable assertion. This is a fine and noble cause, because the spreading of false beliefs – without the evidence to support them – is bad for all of us, as is the displacement of informed argument by mere rhetoric. All the more so when the perpetrator is powerful …

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