JIS News

As at September 2005, a total of 646 applications for information have been made to some 16 ministries and 21 agencies under the Access to Information Act.This was announced by Information Minister, Senator Burchell Whiteman in the Senate on Friday (Dec.16).
He said that of the requests, 36 per cent had come from members of the public, six per cent from public officers, 19 per cent from media entities, one per cent from academia and 38 per cent from organizations. So far, the Appeals Tribunal has heard two appeals and the decisions have been handed down.
The Information Minister, who is also Leader of Government Business in the Senate, further dismissed allegations that the government has reneged on its commitments under the Information Act.
Referring to claims by one entity that it was unable to obtain a document relating to current recommendations on salaries for judges, Senator Whiteman said that those recommendations were still before Cabinet but would be available once the relevant documents were tabled in the House.
He pointed out that the Access to Information Act expressly “forbids the release of documents containing the views of persons in the process of giving advice to the Cabinet and also exempts Cabinet submissions”.
Furthermore, he said the responsible/access officers had demonstrated a very high level of commitment to providing the public with requested documents and “if anything, (they have) erred on the side of sometimes failing to adhere strictly to the law, the regulations and the guidelines in order to facilitate applicants,” he stated.
“If we are to have a meaningful and workable Act and to conduct a constructive review of it, then we must operate on the basis of knowledge and fair and objective analysis of situations,” Senator Whiteman said further.
Meanwhile, a Joint Select Committee of the Parliament will be conducting a review of the Act in January 2006. Committee members will be expected to consider the views and experiences of members of the public, who are end users of the Act as well as the views and opinions of public officials, who are responsible for providing service to citizens in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
“I want to urge that as we embark upon the review all stakeholders seek to inform themselves as to what is required of each party involved in the implementation and that rather than adopt adversarial positions based on misrepresentation and mistrust, we work together to ensure that we obtain the intended benefits from the legislation,” Senator Whiteman said.
The Access to Information Act came into effect on January 5, 2004 and is applicable to all public entities comprising ministries, agencies, departments and other bodies as defined under the Act.
Under the Act, it is required that requests for access to information must be dealt with within 30 days, while matters relating to national security, trade, person’s individual copyrighted material and personal information are exempt.

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