JIS News

Story Highlights

  • Reforms to the Access to Information Act, is to be presented to Parliament by the end of the third quarter of the financial year.
  • Reforms are part of the recommendations made by a Joint Select Committee of Parliament.
  • The Director is encouraging persons to utilise their right to know, under the Act.

A Cabinet submission highlighting reforms to the Access to Information Act, is to be presented to Parliament by the end of the third quarter of the financial year.

Director of the Access to Information (ATI) Unit at the Office of the Prime Minister, Damion Cox, says the reforms are part of the recommendations made by a Joint Select Committee of Parliament which carried out a review of the Access to Information Act in 2011.

Speaking at a recent Jamaica Information Service (JIS) ‘Think Tank’, at the agency’s head office in Kingston, Mr. Cox said amendments to the Act are being legislated, “to ensure that public authorities apply a public interest test in relation to more categories of exemptions.”

A public interest test, he said, is the process whereby public authorities are expected to identify any relevant public interest.

Explaining further how the exemptions work, Mr. Cox informed that a public interest test is only applied to two sections of the ATI Act. Section 19 of the Act stipulates that an exemption can be applied to government deliberative process, while section 21 mandates that the test be applied to documents dealing with any historical, archaeological, anthropological and natural resources, as well as national monuments.

Similarly, he advised that the exemptions protect “things relating to personal privacy and national security, as well as commercially sensitive information of public and private entities.”

Mr. Cox also added that the Act therefore, “seeks to balance the public interest in terms of those documents that can be readily released and those that an exemption can be applied to.”

Meanwhile, the Director is encouraging persons to utilise their right to know, under the Act. He noted that everyone has a right to access government information, since the passage of the legislation.

“The Act provides for proactive disclosure and we are looking to strengthen that. Where we are right now, in terms of routine disclosure, is a far way from where we were prior to this Act being introduced as part of the transparency and open governance framework,” Mr. Cox said.

He added that the aim of the legislation and its implementation is to ensure that Jamaica is conforming to international standards.

Mr. Cox also pointed out that the global move, in terms of open data, is far greater than just gaining access to information that is available.

“It is how we can use the vast data that government collects to create applications that can provide citizens with good services,” he explained, while pointing out that this is what pertains in many other jurisdictions.

The Act, which was passed in 2002, gives Jamaican citizens and individuals across the world the opportunity to access official government documents, while promoting freedom of information.