Senators Approve Amendments to Access to Information Act


Members of the Senate on Friday (October 24), agreed to amendments to the Access to Information Act, which is being debated to provide for its phased implementation in seven Government Ministries and Agencies. One of the agreed amendments is that the Act will be implemented in all Government agencies within 18 months, instead of 24 months after implementation, as was proposed by the Government Senators earlier on in the debate.
In supporting this amendment, Leader of Government Business, Senator Burchell Whiteman said: “I would have been happier with a 24- month period but . I am willing to go with 18 months, which is a workable and desirable period, and so it is agreed that we will operate on that basis”.
Prior to concurring, Opposition Senator, Bruce Golding, had proposed that all Government agencies be given 12 months, instead of 24 months, to adopt the Act.
“We are not averse to consider what is being proposed here but what we worry about is the 12-month period. You cannot have a public authority on board unless it is ready. Why the 24-month period was put there was to have everybody on board within 24 months,” explained Senator A. J. Nicholson, Attorney General.
However, Senator Golding insisted that 24 months was too long for the Act to come into effect in all public agencies. “We still have a difficulty in understanding why an agency that has already had over one year’s notification, would require still another two years in order to put itself in a position to allow access to its information,” he argued.
Another concern put forward by Opposition Senators was that the Act should state which Minister would determine which public bodies or authorities would have the Act applied to them.
“In the interest of clarity and in the interest of ensuring that there is no imperfect legislation …we would have, at a minimum, defined who this Minister is and I would therefore propose that we amend Section 3 of the Act to state who this Minister is.
Don’t ask us to assume that it is the Minister of Information. I think it is very important and I ask the Chamber to consider this as an important amendment,” Opposition Senator, Shirley Williams said.
Meanwhile, Senator Golding said there was a weakness in the Regulations, pointing out that there was no provision in place to prevent the innocent from being taking advantage of, under the Act.
Addressing this concern, Senator Whiteman said that in a climate where “we are encouraging people to put the Government under scrutiny and to access information and to access documents”, any such weakness would have to be corrected.
The debate will continue in the Senate on Friday, October 31.

JIS Social