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Publication - FOI / EIR Release

Correspondence regarding 'blood suckers' or witchcraft in Malawi: FOI release

Published: 19 Dec 2017

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

FOI reference: FOI/17/02791
Date received: 14 November 2017
Date responded: 13 December 2017

Information requested

You asked for 'Copies of all correspondence including but not limited to, emails, notes of telephone calls, letters, and publications concerning 'blood suckers' or witchcraft in Malawi between 30 August 2017 and 14 November 2017'.

Response

I enclose 'Copies of all correspondence including but not limited to, emails, notes of telephone calls, letters, and publications concerning 'blood suckers' or witchcraft in Malawi between 30 August 2017 and 14 November 2017', in electronic format as requested (Annex A-Q).

An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to some of the information requested because it is personal data of a third party, e.g. names/contact details of individuals, and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Schedule 1 to the Data Protection Act 1998. This exemption is not subject to the 'public interest test', so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

An exemption under section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some of the information requested. It is essential for officials to be able to discuss often in confidence, a range of issues, including the consequences of communications by stakeholders on important issues such as these recent tragic deaths in Malawi. Disclosing the content of these discussions is likely to undermine trust in the Scottish Government and will substantially inhibit communications on this type of issue in the future. These stakeholders will be reluctant to provide their opinions fully and frankly if they believe that our views on their communications are likely to be made public, particularly while these discussions relate to a sensitive or controversial issue such as the deaths of people in Malawi accused of being Bloodsuckers and/or involved in Witchcraft. This would significantly harm the Government's ability to carry out many aspects of its work, and could adversely affect its ability to gather all of the evidence it needs to make fully informed policies and/or decisions.

This exemption is subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in allowing officials a private space within which to discuss matters as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's position on stakeholder response to the reports of deaths in Malawi due to accusations of vampirism. This private space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good decisions can be taken based on fully informed, internal discussions. Premature disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between the Scottish Government officials, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.

Exemptions under sections 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank advice and exchange of views) apply to some of the information requested. These exemptions apply because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. The exemptions recognise the need for Ministers to have a private space within which to seek advice and views from officials before reaching the settled public position which will be given in whatever final press lines are used. Disclosing the content of free and frank briefing material on issues arising in our partner countries will substantially inhibit such briefing in the future, particularly where these discussions relate to sensitive or controversial issues.

These exemptions are subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemptions. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemptions. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in allowing a private space within which officials can provide free and frank advice and views to Ministers. It is clearly in the public interest that Ministers can properly consider all factors before agreeing to press lines to be issued on behalf of the Scottish Government. They need full and candid advice from officials to enable them to do so. Premature disclosure of this type of information could lead to a reduction in the comprehensiveness and frankness of such advice and views in the future, which would not be in the public interest.

An exemption under section 32(1)(a)(i) of FOISA (international relations) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Malawi. The effective conduct of international relations depends upon maintaining trust and confidence between the UK Government and other States. In this case, the information relates to discussion in relation to the sensitive and controversial issue such as the deaths of people in Malawi accused of being Bloodsuckers and/or involved in Witchcraft. Release of this information may substantially prejudice future relationships between Scotland or other parts of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Malawi in future, which would reduce both the frequency and openness of communications with the UK.

This exemption is subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in ensuring that the UK Government is able to maintain good relations with the Republic of Malawi, in order to protect and promote UK interests abroad. There can be no public interest in jeopardising those relations by the Scottish Government disclosing the information requested.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses

FOI-17-02791-Annex A-P Email Correspondence.pdf

41 page PDF
117.7kB

FOI-17-02791-Annex Q-Risk Assessment Form.pdf

7 page PDF
181.1kB

Contact

Please quote the FOI reference

Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

Published:
19 Dec 2017
Correspondence regarding 'blood suckers' or witchcraft in Malawi: FOI release