Senate Approves Amendments to Access to Information Act


The Senate yesterday (October 31) gave its full approval to the amendments to the Access to Information Act and Access to Information Regulations 2003,which will give seven government ministries and agencies the go ahead to give information to the public.
The seven are the Ministries of Finance and Planning; Local Government, Community Development and Sport; Office of the Prime Minister; the Cabinet Office; Jamaica Information Service (JIS); the National Works Agency (NWA) and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ).
Among other things, the amendments make provision for the implementation of the Act in all Government agencies within 18 months and for measures to be put in place to prevent defamation of character.
Attorney General and Government Senator, A.J. Nicholson, assured the members that the Act would be implemented in the seven Government agencies in the shortest possible time.
On the matter of character defamation, he said, “this is a matter of very serious import; we can’t just allow the slander of other persons just to take place and that there is no protection.”
Senator Nicholson said that the Government was cognizant that the Act might not be perfect, but that it was something new and would take time. “We do not claim that these regulations are perfect. This is a new subject in the march of history. it is a new concept. We are all struggling with the challenges, which this kind of legislation presents”.
The Access to Information Act 2002 was passed in the Houses of Parliament in June of last year, with the intention that it would have been implemented earlier this year. Under the Act, the public has the general right of access to official government information that would otherwise be inaccessible, which providing for the non-disclosure of information that is essential to national interest and private rights.
The Act aims to reinforce fundamental democratic principles vital for improved, more transparent government; greater accountability of government to its people; enhance public influence on and participation in national decision making; and increase knowledge of the functions of government.
The Act therefore, signals a ground-breaking departure from an age-old culture of secrecy surrounding government and its day-to-day activities.
Access to information (ATI) or Freedom of Information legislation, as it is called in some jurisdictions, has existed since 1776 and is in force in many countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada and most of Europe, and Trinidad and Tobago and Belize.

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