KN news item, Friday 19 June 2009
Freedom of Information legislation: President’s self appointed two-month deadline up today
June 19, 2009 | By knews | Filed Under News
Alliance for Change leader, Raphael Trotman, yesterday lashed out at recent comments by the General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party, Donald Ramotar, who said that the government was currently drafting a Freedom of Information Bill and there will be consultation after.
Trotman is of the opinion that the position taken is ludicrous firstly given that the AFC has already submitted a draft, which has gained consensus with the other opposition party.
He noted that rather than the government preparing the Freedom of Information Act in isolation it should have been a consultative process where stakeholder such as the bar association and media representatives among others, would have had an input and “we could all be proud of a well thought out piece of legislation.”
According to Trotman, he was quite aware of the constraints at the Office of the Auditor General as alluded to by Ramotar but stressed that those very constraints were convenient, given that, when the government wishes to hurry up a piece of legislation the AG’s office works with haste.
The Government’s long-awaited Freedom of Information Bill is currently in its final draft, according to PPP General Secretary, Donald Ramotar, who told Kaieteur News that the process was slow, not because of political problems, but because of practical reasons.
Ramotar had pointed out that there is only one Attorney General’s Office, which is already in possession of a number of other pieces of draft legislation from other Ministries.
He assured that when the draft is completed, there would be consultations with the opposition and other stakeholders.
“How can we consult if we have nothing to consult with?” Ramotar asked.
This comment was however not greeted too kindly because the AFC leader is of the opinion that there is already a very comprehensive draft FOI legislation that was tabled and could have been a basis, or any new legislation that the Government proposes.
Vice Chairperson of the AFC, Sheila Holder, recently reminded the President of his commitment to lay in the National Assembly the FOI Legislation.
The two-month deadline that President Bharrat Jagdeo set for his government to introduce FOI legislation is up today.
According to Trotman, to date, there have been no serious consultations on the Bill. He reiterated that if the government proceeds with its Bill, then it would be supported, since “the legislation is more important for Guyana than it is for the AFC.”
But Trotman did point out that as far as he was aware, there have been no consultations with any of the stakeholders, such as the Bar Association and members of civil society.
It is believed that the government is seeking to use the Trinidad and Tobago model, “which is the model we used and was developed with the help of a human rights group out of India… We adapted it for Guyana and we are sure we have a Bill that can pass international scrutiny. We are still hoping that the PPP Government will accept the Bill.”
When President Jagdeo first made the announcement, Trotman, though heartened, said that he would have expected that the Bill tabled by him would have been addressed first.
According to Trotman, the Bill that he tabled was not a piece that he “just imagined”, since it was based on a model that is in force in Trinidad and Tobago.
He added that the Bill has been thoroughly addressed by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
According to Trotman, one would have considered that in an effort to save time, the government would have at least worked with the one that was tabled, questioning if they found the Bill in his name, “totally unacceptable.”
“We are already drafting it (FOI). It is something in my manifesto. We have already gone beyond many countries in terms of changes to the constitutional system,” Jagdeo told media operatives in Trinidad, in April.
The essence of the Freedom of Information Act, according to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), is the empowerment of the populace to request any piece of information (with few exceptions, such as medical records) held by a public authority.