The recent revelation that Scotland’s national clinical director, Jason Leitch, had ordered the daily deletion of Covid-related WhatsApp messages has sparked a heated debate about transparency and accountability within the Scottish government. The issue has raised concerns about potential breaches of freedom of information laws, leading to a call for further investigation by Scotland’s Information Commissioner, David Hamilton.
Cause for Concern
In light of the excerpts of conversations published between Jason Leitch and other government officials, David Hamilton has expressed deep concern about the potential withholding of information to bypass freedom of information laws. According to BBC Scotland News, Hamilton emphasized that certain messages indicated a disregard for the spirit, if not the actual law, of freedom of information. This has prompted him to consider taking action if there are suspicions of deliberate attempts to subvert the policy of freedom of information.
WhatsApp Deletion as a Routine
One of the most troubling revelations from the published conversations is Prof Leitch’s casual remark that “WhatsApp deletion is a pre-bed ritual.” This statement has reinforced the perception that the regular deletion of crucial Covid-related communications was widespread within the government’s circles. Meanwhile, the Scottish government has maintained its position, asserting that it has fulfilled all legal obligations. However, Hamilton remains skeptical, suggesting that information may have been inappropriately erased, contrary to the principles of transparency and accountability.
Concerns About Attitude and Culture
David Hamilton has also expressed concerns about the demeanor and attitude of some government officials towards freedom of information laws. The direct orders to delete conversations as a preemptive measure against potential public scrutiny have raised flags about a potential systemic problem within the government. Hamilton’s unease about the prevailing culture of actively instructing people to delete conversations underscores the need for a thorough and impartial investigation into the matter.
Corporate Oversight and Blurred Boundaries
The revelation has also shed light on the lack of corporate oversight on informal messaging apps used by government officials. The blending of personal and professional conversations on these platforms has further complicated matters, leading to potential breaches of professional conduct and accountability. The mixture of personal and official exchanges has created an environment where crucial information could be easily deleted without appropriate scrutiny, raising significant concerns about the management of sensitive communications.
Call for Action
The unfolding of events has prompted Scotland’s Information Commissioner to consider the implications of the revealed conversations and the potential ramifications for freedom of information. The need for a comprehensive review of the culture and practices within the government regarding the handling of official communications has been underscored by David Hamilton’s statements. The call for action to address any potential breaches of transparency and accountability is reflective of the urgency to restore public trust and uphold the principles of open governance.
In conclusion, the recent revelations about the daily deletion of Covid-related WhatsApp messages by a senior government official have raised significant concerns about the adherence to freedom of information laws within the Scottish government. The casual attitude towards the deletion of crucial communications, coupled with the lack of corporate oversight and accountability, has highlighted the need for a thorough investigation and potential reforms to ensure transparency and accountability in the handling of official communications. The implications of these revelations extend beyond the specific conversations and call for a broader assessment of the prevailing culture and practices within the government to uphold the principles of open governance and public accountability.
Find out more about our sources here.