Guyana - Kaieteur News news item, Monday 15 June 2009
Still drafting, will consult with opposition when completed …Freedom Information Legislation…- Donald Ramotar
The Government’s long awaited freedom of Information Bill is currently in its final drafting stage.
This is according to General Secretary of the Peoples Progressive Party, Donald Ramotar, who told Kaieteur News yesterday that the process was slow, not because of political problems, but because of practical reasons.
According to Ramotar, there is only one Attorney General’s Office which is already in possession of a number of other pieces of legislation from other ministries that were drafting.
He assured that when the draft was completed, there will be consultations with the opposition and other stakeholders.
PPP's General Secretary Donald Ramotar
PPP's General Secretary Donald Ramotar
“How can we consult if we have nothing to consult with?” Ramotar asked.
On Thursday, Vice Chairperson of the Alliance for Change, Sheila Holder, used the opportunity of the party’s press briefing to remind the President of his commitment to lay in the National Assembly the Freedom of Information (FOI) Legislation.
According to Holder, the two-month deadline that President Bharrat Jagdeo set for his government to introduce FOI legislation is fast approaching.
She pointed out that the nation could recall that while in attendance at the 5th Summit of the Americas, in April, 2009, President Jagdeo was faced with the AFC’s full-page advertisement, and was pressed by international journalists to respond to questions about governance, corruption, and transparency in Guyana.
“The President was quoted as saying, among other things, that legislation was being prepared and would be presented to Parliament within two months. The AFC has since learnt that the government will be using the Trinidad & Tobago model as a precedent just as the AFC did.”
Holder told media operatives that the President must be reminded that he made his promise in a very public and international way, and that the eyes of the free world are on him and his government.
“His failure to keep his word will once again indicate that we are faced with a government that gives lip service to the concepts of democracy and good governance.”
The party’s vice chairperson pointed out that while the AFC supports the introduction and passage of this legislation, it wants to remind the government that there is already legislation before the National Assembly that has been designed to achieve the same objective of providing access to information to members of the public.
“The AFC is more than willing to have the government endorse, and adopt its Bill in order to expedite the process.”
Leader of the party, when pressed by media operatives, disclosed that the party has always indicated its willingness to work with the Peoples Progressive Party, the Peoples National Congress and the other parties as it relates to advancing the Bill.
According to Trotman, to date, there have been no serious consultations on the Bill, but 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 among others.
He reminded that given the feedback to his party, 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, so 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 was tabled by him was not a piece that he “just imagined”, since it was based on a model that is in force in Trinidad and Tobago.
He further 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.
Trotman had recently told this newspaper that he was disappointed that the Government did not see it fit to support the Freedom of Information legislation in 2008 but was, nevertheless, optimistic for 2009.
He had noted that his disappointment was further fuelled by the fact that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association had held a workshop for Parliamentarians and media operatives, where Freedom of Information (FOI) was extensively discussed.
He conceded that legislation such as the FOI will take time, but pointed out that there was a resounding call by Guyanese, who were now beginning to understand the importance of such a piece of legislation, as well as the calls from the international organisations.
Trotman emphasized that Freedom of Information is important for good governance and transparency.
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.