Belfast Telegraph

The offices funded by public that keep travel bills secret

Two Stormont departments have come under pressure to release full details of their overseas travel.

The Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) both failed to respond to questions about their expenditure.

This newspaper submitted questions to all 12 Stormont departments on January 9 under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act. But while a response was due within 20 working days, OFMDFM and DETI have yet to provide a response — some three months later.

This is the latest case where OFMDFM, Stormont’s top department, has failed to release information requested under FoI.

Last year a series of decisions were made against OFMDFM, leading to a formal warning from the Information Commissioner.

TUV leader Jim Allister, who is among those left waiting for answers to questions submitted under FoI, criticised their lack of transparency.

“I have one request with OFMDFM asking about the cost of an American trip which is several months old,” he said.

“It is not just a lack of transparency, it is the fact that OFMDFM is so arrogantly indifferent about it. They seem to think they are beyond public accountability. Even the Freedom of Information Act doesn’t seem to bother them. The Information Commissioner has rebuked them several times, to no avail.”

Mr Allister said taxpayers had a right to know how their money was spent.

“It is not OFMDFM’s money, it is our money,” he added. “They are obligated to tell us, but seem to think they are above the law.”

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