Access to Information Advisory Stakeholders Committee Chairperson, Dr. Carolyn Gomes, has lauded the country’s progress in the area of access to information, pointing out that Jamaica has come a long way since passing the Act in 2002.
“What a long way Jamaica has come with access to information. It’s fantastic. We’re coming from a place where no information that you wanted that was created by the civil service was available to you until 30 years had passed,” she said.
Dr. Gomes was speaking at the 2012/2013 awards ceremony for the Access to Information (ATI) National High School Essay Competition, held at the Medallion Hall hotel in Kingston on March 26.
The Chairperson pointed out that when the Act was passed in 2002, Cabinet documents from 1972 were just being made available to the public.
“Can you imagine waiting from 1972 to 2002 to get information?” she asked.
Dr. Gomes said Jamaica has come such a far way that now all one has to do is “click on the computer and log on to a site”.
“And, if we don’t see it on the website, we can ask for it and there is a process and a timeline and a structure, and for the most part, when you call the Ministries and speak to the information officers, they help you through the process,” she said.
Dr. Gomes encouraged the students who entered the essay competition to share what they have learned with the wider public.
“My charge to all of you is to take the knowledge you’ve gained in this essay competition about access to information and spread it. You must now become access to information ambassadors for your school, your church, your homes, everywhere you can think of; make sure to tell people that they now have power in their hands – the power of knowledge,” she implored.
For her part, Principal Director in the Information Divisionat the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Joan Archibald, said the government of Jamaica is committed to increasingly more open, accountable and responsive governance, recognising that democracy is only strengthened by this process.
In this vein, she said the continued improvement of the ATI Act, through amendment, will be pursued in the upcoming legislative year, to build on, broaden and deepen the successes that have already been gained.
Additionally, Ms. Archibald stated that government continues to work towards increasing public awareness of, and getting more people to use the legislation.
“This is important because we know that official information can enhance people’s capacity to exercise their rights. The public must have access to information vital to their lives, including information on basic rights and entitlements on public services, such as those related to health, education, employment and the environment,” she stated.
In the meantime, Glenmuir High School student, Yashae Mitchell, was selected as the 2013 winner of the Access to Information National High School Essay Competition.
The 18-year-old copped the top prize, after beating out some 21 rivals. Munro College Kerron White and Andwayne Davis from St. Mary High school received the awards for second and third place, respectively.
For her winning essay on the topic: ‘The Access to Information Act (2002) encourages and facilitates an informed public and public participation in Governmental affairs. Discuss’, Yashae received a cash prize of $30,000 and the ATI Unit trophy.
The second place finisher was presented with a cash prize of $20,000 and the ATI Advisory Stakeholders Committee trophy, while third place received $15,000, along with the ATI Association of Administrators trophy.
The ATI National High School Essay Competition, which is in its fourth year, is open to registered high school students between third and sixth forms. It is sponsored by the ATI Unit and the ATI Advisory Stakeholders Committee, and is designed to give Jamaican youth the opportunity to become more aware of the Access to Information Act.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter