Friday, November 21, 2008

Spot the fib teller

The Freedom of Information legislation that is currently on hold by its mover Raphael Trotman is being advanced, and fast as possible, aimed at having it implemented.

This is according to Prime Minister Samuel Hinds when asked on the status of the Government’s position on the Bill.

Hinds said, however, that no significant issue was ever as simple as a yes or no, but work was moving apace.

When contacted yesterday, Trotman said that 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.”

According to Ramotar, “We have not examined it as yet… the whole draft, the legislation and what it entails.”Ramotar, at that time, did concede that the PPP may have to do so some time in future, and 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 Minister of Health 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.

During the debate on the 2007 Budget, Trotman had indicated that the passage of legislation to allow access to information is more important than personal endeavours, and he had indicated his willingness to step aside and allow the Government to take up the initiative.

The Bill proposed by Trotman is based on the Trinidad model, which has been criticized by the Government, saying that it had too many flaws.

According to Trotman, the idea of freedom of information must now be expanded from the political realm to that of a multi-stakeholder-driven agenda.

He noted that everyone — not just politicians — must become involved in the process, and consensus must be arrived at.

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