The ombudsman has highlighted the fact that a number of complaints received by his office relate to the failure of the public administration to respond promptly to emails sent to public officials, lending credence to an endemic issue that many local newsrooms face.
The statement, issued this week, also noted that the directives issued by the Principal Permanent Secretary should be followed to maintain the standards of public administration services.
Clause 3.2 of the current policy on email communication states that any inquiries or requests for information received via email must be acknowledged and checked within one business day of receipt.
Even if the request is complex and cannot be answered immediately, an acknowledgement email must still be sent with a note indicating when a final answer can be expected.
The policy also notes that “where requests/queries cannot be answered by the receiving organisation”, an acknowledgement letter is to be sent within one working day, with the query “forwarded to the relevant organisation which can address the request/query.”
When members of the public administration are out of office, the policy stipulates that “automatic out-of-office replies should invariably be used,” with the name and contact details of whoever can be contacted.
The reality experienced by local newsrooms, particularly those who do not toe the government line, differs significantly from the efficiency required by official policy.
Recent examples include questions to Health Minister Christ Fearne about drug shortages from the government formulary or questions to the prime minister’s office about Silvio Schembri and his wife’s conflicts of interest. In both cases, along with many others, The Shift’s questions were ignored.
Last May, The Shift reported an information wipeout on appointees to the dozens of government boards and agencies that form part of the extended public sector from official government websites.