Most of the applications by this newspaper made to the government under the Freedom of Information Act over the past months were rejected.

In refusing the requests for information, the government often cited commercial sensitivity and a number of exemptions listed in the law as the reason for withholding documents.

Over 15 applications filed by the Times of Malta over the past few months were turned down, and the newspaper was forced to resort to the Data Protection Commissioner, who is empowered by law to review such decisions.

According to the law, even if such complaints are upheld, the Prime Minister still retains the right to withhold the information requested.

The applications included requests for information on major deals signed by the government in the energy and health sectors.

Requests were also made for copies of the €360 million loan guarantee given by the government to Electrogas, the private company that is building the new power station.

The government also rejected a request for copies of the agreements signed with Shanghai Electric Power of China for the sale of a 33 per cent stake in Enemalta and the BWSC power plant for a total of €320 million.

Other applications were for copies of reports that remain unpublished and which this newspaper feels the taxpayer should know the details of. These included the findings of the magisterial inquiry into the Paqpali car show incident last October and documents related to the dealings behind a planning authority permit granted to the daughter of a consultant to the Agriculture Parliamentary Secretary.

The Prime Minister has pledged to publish the contracts mentioned above by the end of the year.

A request for a breakdown of all PBS expenses for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest and all private sponsorships received was also turned down.

It was again a ‘no’ for this newspaper to have access to information on bills sent to parents for using the government’s childcare service. The reply was no such data was held. The service is offered for free but childcare centres can charge parents if a certain amount of pre-booked hours are not used.

The Freedom of Information Act was introduced in 2012 by the previous administration and was meant to promote transparency and accountability in government.

The Nationalist Party has pledged to review the law to “better reflect higher European standards of transparency” in view of it being “riddled with exemptions which weaken it”. According to the law, no requests can be filed for documents held by the Electoral Commission, the Public Service Commission, the Employment Commission, the Attorney General, the National Audit Office, the Security Service and the Ombudsman.

Public entities are obliged to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request within 20 working days, though a further 20-day extension is allowed.

The reply to requests, often a refusal, is usually given on the last possible day.

jacob.borg@timesofmalta.com

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