Readers might remember that back in August I first put in a request for all expenses of all TDs and Senators since records began, or as far as the FOI act allows (1998). The purpose of the request is two fold – one for the public record and two for integration into KildareStreet.com member profiles.
This FOI, and series of FOIs and appeals has now been in process for four months. Thus far we have received in various forms, all expenses for TDs and Senators for 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008. I sent a separate FOI for the years 2002 and 2001. But it might be worth taking people through the chronology to fully understand where we are now.
August: Initial FOI sent seeking all records of expenses for 10 years.
September 11: I blog that I have received a reply. The Oireachtas said: “After consideration and consultations, I estimate that the services of staff members totalling 110 hours will be the minimum required to efficiently complete the search and retrieval work on the balance of your request for the years 1998 to 2004… The prescribed amount chargeable for each such hour is €20.95 resulting in a fee of €2,304. Additionally, it is estimated that a total of 3,200 pages containing the records for the period from 1998 to 2004 will have to be photocopied, resulting in a further charge of €136.00 with the overall fee amounting to €2,440.”
And: “… there is a gap in in the hard copy records in respect of the period from January 1, 1998 to March 31, 1998. In addition, it is unclear that the final released data is available for the following periods as the material has not, as yet, been located:
April 1999 to October 1999
June 2000 to June 2001
July 2002 to June 2003″
I read this to mean that the records themselves had not been located, but the Oireachtas sought to tell me that the records did actually exist, just they had not been previously FOId, therefore the gaps existed for information that had not been previously FOId. I shared a byline in the Examiner with Fiachra about these gaps, and the Oireachtas contacted me the next day. I was told over the phone that “the records are certainly there” and I subsequently gave the Oireachtas press officer right of reply on this blog where he said:
“this may have given the impression that our records were incomplete. But this is not the case. The requests for those periods was in the early days of FOI when everything was done manually. We don’t have ready access to those files, but they’re not missing. They do exist but it will take some time and effort to locate them.”
September: I vary my request, first seeking 2005 to 2008 in digital format and at no cost, and also seeking 2003 and 2004 in complete form in terms of calendar years. In other words without the gap between June and December 2003. I also send another separate FOI seeking the complete calendar years 2002 and 2001.
October 15: I receive documents containing all expenses data for 2005 – 2008. I blog it here. I also receive a reply for my 2002/2001 request, stating that they were citing Section 10 (1) (c) of the Act: “granting the request would by reason of such number of records or an examination of such kind of records concerned as to cause substantial and unreasonable interference with or disruption of work of the public body concerned”.
October 17: I send the following appeal to the Oireachtas (costing €75).
November 2: I receive expenses data for 2003/2004 complete, and publish them online. This release had in my opinion been pushing the time limits of the initial FOI to the maximum.
November 10: I receive a reply to my appeal, which I am publishing here for the first time.
The Oireachtas has agreed to release expenses data for the calendar years 2002 and 2001. However contrary to the views expressed by the Oireachtas press officer, that “no documents are missing”, there are in fact missing documents. The reason given is that some documents are destroyed once the accounts have been audited. Here is the money part:
I am refusing access to the records for 2001 and 2002 in relation to the expenses
claimed from the Grants-in-aid in respect of inter-parliamentary activities and the
British Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body as it has not been possible to find the records in
question – which would have been created in hard copy format only. These records
are outside of the main electronic accounting system for the office so details of claims
paid are not available through this system. I should point out there is a general rule
that permits the destruction of records, particularly hard copy records, relating to the
accounts for a particular year once those accounts have been audited by the
Comptroller and Auditor General and reported on by the Committee of Public
Accounts. This process would generally conclude within 2/3 years of the end of a
particular accounting year.
I have decided to grant you access to all the other records – which account for the
bulk of the records requested – which fall within the scope of your appeal. Please note
that the records do not include salaries of TDs and Senators as salaries do not fall
within the category ‘expenses’. The records relating to this decision will be sent to
you under separate cover in the next few days.
So now we will have expenses data for 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008. Minus some information. I have also already got a hold of interparliamentary expenses for 2005 – 2008.
Not a painful process at all, is it? What puzzles me is why they cited Section 10 (1) (c) at all and why the original request was quoted at nearly €2,500, yet I have now received almost the entire amount for under €100. As they say in the US: go figure.