Last Thursday (May 5, 2022) The Gleaner published an article titled “BOJ Mum on Money Price Tag” in which it told about the Bank of Jamaica’s refusal to grant access to information requested under the Access to Information (ATI) Act.
The Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) has refused to disclose the cost of financing the controversial upgrade of banknotes scheduled for release later this year.
An Access to Information (ATI) request submitted by The Gleaner for the cost to revamp the notes, first announced in Parliament by Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke, was denied by the central bank.
“The contract relating to the cost of upgrading the banknotes is exempt from disclosure under the Access to Information Act,” the BOJ’s Deputy General Counsel Alvana Johnson said on April 22 in response to the request.
Johnson did not state which provision within the legislation it used to shield the disclosure of the cost.
The cost for the upgrade was determined based on bids submitted, The Gleaner was told, but details of the bids were not disclosed, nor were the names of the bidders.
Additionally, the BOJ, which is charged with the maintenance of the financial system’s stability, would not reveal who was awarded the contract.Excerpt from Gleaner article, BOJ Mum on Money Price Tag, 5/5/2022
I don’t know the exact wording of the Gleaner’s ATI request but the topic certainly seems to be one that would be of general interest – matters concerning the production and the cost to the country of new bank notes that are to be issued later this year. It doesn’t really matter, however, whether anyone else would be interested in the information an applicant has requested. Just as it doesn’t matter why the information is requested. Section 6(3) of the ATI Act says:
The Gleaner says that BOJ denied its request for information and the ATI Act says – in Section 7(5) – that where that happens, the Govenment entity must give reasons for the denial:
The Gleaner included a quote from the BOJ saying that the relevant contract was exempt under the ATI Act. However the BOJ did not say which Section in the Act it was relying on in order to claim that the contract was exempt.
Part III of the ATI Act deals with exempt documents; it has ten sections with multiple subsections dealing with a number of reasons a document might be considered exempt from disclosure. The reasons are varied and include things such as
- the disclosure would prejudice the security, defence or international relations of Jamaica
- it is a Cabinet Decision, or other official record of any deliberation of the Cabinet
- documents related to law enforcement, the disclosure of which would facilitate the escape of a person from lawful detention
- the disclosure would reveal trade secrets
- the disclosure would result in destruction of, damage to, or inteference with, the conservation of endangered species of plants or animals.
There are many more.
When a Government entity doesn’t give the reason for its denial of access, it is problematic, as I pointed out in this tweet:
On Friday (May 6, 2022), BOJ responded to the Gleaner article with a notice posted on its website – Cost of Upgraded Banknote Series:
Bank of Jamaica (the Bank) recently concluded a contract with De La Rue, a UK based company, to redesign and print the upgraded banknotes which will be put into circulation towards the end of this year. The Bank acknowledges the valid concerns regarding the provision of information about the cost of the upgraded banknotes. However, we are not able to disclose such information as the terms and conditions of the contract with De La Rue, which include the cost, are subject to a strict confidentiality agreement. In fact, personnel engaged in the procurement process were required to sign non-disclosure agreements prohibiting them from disclosing the settled payment terms. Disclosure would therefore expose the Bank to legal action for a breach of contract. The Access to Information Act exempts the disclosure of information relating to the terms of the Contract as to do so would be an actionable breach of confidence.
The selection of De La Rue as the successful printer was the result of a rigorous procurement process conducted by the Bank with the final recommendation being approved by the Minister of Finance and the Public Service as required by the Bank of Jamaica Act. The procurement process is consistent with the Government’s procurement guidelines. Six reputable banknote printers submitted bids which were assessed by a committee of the Bank’s currency experts. Based on confidentiality of the bidding process, the Bank is unable to divulge information on the other entities.
The cost of printing banknotes over the last three years (2019 – 2021) was approximately USD7.0 million per annum. For the upgraded banknotes, the cost will, initially be higher given (i) the significantly larger quantities to be ordered as the redesigned notes will fully replace the current notes over time, (ii) the new substrate, polymer, that will be used, (iii) enhanced security features to combat counterfeiting and (iv) the new designs for each denomination. However, the polymer substrate used will result in cost savings for the Bank over time as the average useful life of the banknotes will increase by at least 50 percent thereby enabling the Bank to order less banknotes and at a lower frequency in the future.
Bank of Jamaica will provide relevant information regarding the new series of banknotes as part of a comprehensive public education campaign leading up to their introduction into circulation at the end of this year.BOJ Notice, 6/5/2022
BOJ gave additional information in this notice, including the name of the company that was awarded the contract. It also said more about its reason for denying the Gleaner’s request, though it still did not specifically state the Section of the ATI Act it was relying on to claim an exemption. From its comment that “Disclosure would therefore expose the Bank to legal action for a breach of contract“, one might assume that one of the subsections of Section 17 is being relied on but an applicant ought not to have to make an assumption.
In a response on Twitter, BOJ did refer to Section 17…
…which says this:
The issue of the new bank notes has been of public interest and the subject of discussion since the Finance Minister’s announcement in Parliament two months ago. The Gleaner’s article and the BOJ’s responses have raised more questions, including ones to do with the application of the ATI Act. It will be interesting to see if the Gleaner is satisfied with the BOJ’s responses or whether they will request internal review of the BOJ’s decision or ultimately go to the Appeal Tribunal.