Premier Christy Clark’s letter banning political staff and ministers from erasing sent emails following a damning report from the privacy commissioner sounds good on the surface.
But there’s no good reason to think anything will change soon in the disturbing culture of “oral government” that’s become a trademark of Clark’s regime.
As Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report makes clear, the refusal to produce records of important government business or even to create records isn’t accidental. It’s deliberate, entrenched and starts at the top.
Clark reportedly reacted to the news saying she doesn’t even know how to “triple delete” emails.
But Clark has political staff only too happy to do it for her. Her own chief of staff, for instance, is cited in Denham’s report as deleting virtually all of her emails daily. Another senior staffer in charge of Freedom of Information requests in Clark’s office asks people about them in person, occasionally scribbling on a sticky note, which he then gets rid of.
Call it government by Post-It. Wisecrackers have suggested burner phones and invisible ink could be next.
Denham’s report makes it clear that bureaucrats spend far more time figuring out how they can avoid handing over any records than they ever do searching for them. Denham writes that she expected political staff would have a better understanding of their obligations.
Sadly, their understanding is all too evident in the lengths taken to circumvent requests for records. It’s their obligations that have been misdirected to their political masters, rather than the public.
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