Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Freedom of Information Bill…

Freedom of Information Bill…I don’t know of any work being done — Nagamootoo
Kaieteur News. November 25, 2008

Leader of the Alliance for Change, Raphael Trotman, says that, to date, neither Prime Minister Samuel Hinds nor anyone from the Office of the President has made any contact with him, or discussed the issue of Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill which is currently on hold in the National Assembly.
Trotman, in an invited comment yesterday, told this newspaper that he is still unaware about whether the relevant authority was even working on a draft or a compromise on his version of the proposed legislation.
When contacted yesterday, former Minister of Information, Moses Nagamootoo, said that he was a staunch advocate of FOI legislation and restated his position at the recently held Commonwealth forum for Parliamentarians and media personnel on FOI.
At that forum, he and the Prime Minister had said that it was inevitable for Guyana.
He added that ever since the Commonwealth forum that was held at the Grand Coastal Inn, he has not been aware of any discussion pertaining to FOI legislation.
According to Nagamootoo, he was also not aware of any alternative of counter to Trotman’s proposed legislation.
He did say that, being that he was the former journalist as well as former Minister of Information, such discussions would have been held with him.
Hinds recently told this newspaper that no significant issue was ever as simple as a yes or no. He said that events were moving along, and these could see the Freedom of Information Act sooner rather than later.
At the time, Trotman said, he was unaware of any such initiative on the Government side to quickly implement the legislation, but he was optimistic that he would gain the support to have the legislation tabled by year end. He emphasised that the Freedom of Information Bill was an absolute necessity.
He noted that there was a renewed vigour in democracy worldwide, and he was hopeful that the Government would follow suit. He pointed to the fact that Barbados is gearing to implement similar legislation, as well as the fact that Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have already implemented their Freedom of Information legislations.
The People’s National Congress Reform has already voiced its support for the legislation; and yesterday, leader of Vision Guyana, Peter Ramsaroop, voiced his support for the Freedom of Information legislation.
In an invited comment, Ramsaroop said: “This will allow us to ensure accountability and transparency…Critical information such as procurements and contracts should be visible to the public.”
He said that his party actively supports the AFC cause in getting the legislation passed in the National Assembly. “There should be no objection by the Administration if they believe everything is being done above board.”
During a mid-year press briefing, General Secretary of the PPP, Donald Ramotar, had disclosed that at that time the party “has never consulted internally on whether it would support a Freedom of Information legislation.”
Ramotar, at that time, did concede that the PPP may have to do so some time in future, and that it is likely that this was what the Prime Minister was referring to.
That position adopted by Ramotar at the time came on the heels of public statements by both the Prime Minister Samuel Hinds and Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy, where they conceded that the enactment of the legislation was inevitable.
Despite acknowledging its inevitability, the Prime Minister had said that Guyana was already experiencing some 80 per cent of freedom of information, in that the Government already makes information available in a proactive manner. The Prime Minister made this statement recently at a forum to discuss the mining situation.
The essence of the Freedom of Information Act, according to the Commonwealth Parliament Association (CPA), is the empowerment of the populace to request any piece of information (with few exemptions, such as medical records) held by a public authority. One such utilisation of the Act was cited by a renowned Trinidadian journalist, Sasha Mohammad, at a recent CPA workshop held for media operatives and Parliamentarians.
According to Mohammad, one such incident was where there was a request that the salaries and monies paid to the director of a bank be disclosed.
The Bill proposed by Trotman is based on the Trinidad model, which has been criticised by the Government for having too many flaws.

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