Advertisement
JIS News

As of Tuesday July 5, all ministries, departments and state agencies of government will fall under the ambit of the Access to Information Act.
Information Minister and Leader of Government Business Senator Burchell Whiteman making the announcement during the sitting of the Upper House yesterday (July 1), said while a significant majority of the 264 agencies and departments were not presently technically equipped to respond optimally to applications for access, the decision had been taken not to amend the Law at this time. Instead, all means will be employed to serve the Jamaican public by facilitating applications as much as possible in keeping with the Act.
The move comes in fulfillment of the Government’s proposal following the passage of the original Act in 2002 that the implementation of the Act be done on a phased basis to permit for more orderly and manageable administration. It was decided that 18 months after the appointed day on which the Minister declared, by order, that implementation should become effective, all public entities be brought under the Act. The appointed day was January 5, 2004.
Senator Whiteman said all ministries and several major agencies and departments already operating under the Act, paving the way for the Senate to assess their performance so far. He said it was the administration’s view that “the skills and the access routes created by the parent ministries should be used to continue to build capacity in the departments and agencies” in a bid to honour the state’s obligations under the Act.
On the matter of the Special Select committee of the Senate appointed to review the Act, the Information Minister said the Access to Information Association of Administrators would be making submissions to assist the committee in this exercise.
Senator Whiteman further emphasised that it would be ensured that the requirements for the review of the Act by both Houses of Parliament as set out under Section 38 of the Act would be honoured. He informed that the Annual Report on performance mandated under Section 36 of the Act would be presented to the Parliament no later than the 15th of this month.
The Information Minister said positive responses had been received from significant groups within the island including: tertiary level students, media personnel, religious and civic groups. Responses have also been received from groups outside the island including, partners from the Carter Centre, Access to Information systems in the United States, Canada, South Africa as well as the South American Continent.
Minister Whiteman emphasised that the specific duty of agencies under the Act was to “provide access to documents – broadly defined – in possession of the government with the exemptions specified in the Act”. Exempt under the Act are matters relating to national security, trade, persons individual copyrighted material, and personal information.
Senator Whiteman said the intention was to empower citizens by providing them with information, which would assist them in holding the government accountable at the local and national level.
Furthermore he said, the remit and purposes of the Act were in keeping with the thrust, intentions and policies of the administration to enable information sharing and communication, as information was a “vital element in the process of good governance and the building of public trust”.
The Access to Information Act 2002, grants the public access to most documents held by government departments and agencies. It aims to reinforce fundamental democratic principles vital to transparency, accountability and public participation in government as it enables citizens to be further informed on matters pertaining to government contracts, the environment, public health and the administration of public funds.
Access to Information (ATI) or freedom of information legislation, as it is termed in some jurisdictions, has existed since 1776 and is in force in more than 47 countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Japan, Trinidad and Tobago, and Belize.