Last week (July 7) at a post-sectoral debate press briefing, Minister of National Security Robert Montague said that he intends to have his ministry’sbudget classified, thus making it unavailable publicly.The reason given for this is to prevent information within the budget being used by people with criminal intentions.
“The era of announcing details of our security programmes is over. And it is over to the extent that I am bringing a submission to Cabinet seeking to remove the National Security budget from the printed information within the national budget. And the reason for it, we have seen on our website a lot of traffic from countries and from organizations that we too have an interest in, trying to find out the size of the budget and what you spending on. And it is an intelligence gathering. We are providing those who wish to cause mayhem with vital information and this ministry is trying to cease and desist.” – Minister of National Security, Robert Montague (Transcribed from recording of Nationwide News Network newscast July 7, 2016)
The Minister says he will be taking this proposal to Cabinet, where I hope it will be reconsidered.
Openness and transparency are important and prized characteristics of governance in a modern democracy. I cannot in that context see any reason to justify the blanket withholding of the entire budget of the Ministry of National Security from public access. The majority of that budget couldn’t possibly pose any risk to national security by being in the public arena. Pages like this, for example:
If there were a genuine and substantiated risk posed by public access to any particular items within the budget, the appropriate approach could only be to redact specific, limited items.
Does the level of information given in the budget reach the kind of operational detail that would provide useful information for criminal organizations? Page after page of the document that I looked at could never justifiably be exempt from public access. You can have a look at the budget now posted on the Ministry of Finance’s website – Estimates of Expenditure 2016-2017 – and see what you think.