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Minister of Information, Senator Burchell Whiteman has urged citizens to “avoid adversarial tactics” as they seek to access official documents under the Access to Information (ATI) Act.
Addressing an ATI Act retreat of permanent secretaries and information officers at the Jamaica Conference Centre downtown, Kingston today (July 6), Minister Whiteman noted that there have been instances, when members of the public have made requests for particular documents, but have not bothered to peruse them, when they were made available.
“I really want to urge that anyone who is genuinely concerned about governance, accountability, transparency and more importantly, building a wholesome relationship between the public and the government, that we do not make this matter adversarial in how we promote it,” Minister Whiteman stressed.
The Information Minister explained that preparing and providing information for the public was not an easy task and information officers did not have the resources and time to waste. “This form of cynical testing weakened the confidence and capacity of the officers to carry out their duties,” he noted.
Additionally, Minister Whiteman sought to clear up reports of government bodies not complying with the Act. “Even though we have agencies and departments, which do not have the technical competence to be as efficient as central ministries have been, we are still going to regard ourselves as being beholden and obligated under the Act to deliver the service which the Act requires of us,” he said.
Continuing, he noted, “therefore, I want to assure the public that we are genuinely open for business, nobody is going to turn you back and say sorry we are not ready”.
Minister Whiteman further informed that government would have to find the necessary resources to make information available electronically even though this will be expensive. He also called on all public sector departments and agencies to seek to deliver the public requests and put out the general information required.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Grace Allen-Young, in her remarks, informed that the Ministry had been able to deliver a 100 per cent response to all requests that were made. She pointed out, that the Ministry received approximately 19 requests, of which 10 were granted access, seven were transferred to their rightful ministry destinations and two were routine requests.
She informed that after completing a swat analysis, the Ministry realized that it had certain weaknesses such as the need to establish an efficient record keeping system; that there were persons who were unwilling to be part of the programme; and that it lacked the requisite financial and human resources. She said there had since been an improvement in the culture of sharing with clients.
Mrs. Allen-Young endorsed Senator Whiteman’s call for all government bodies to eventually make their documents available electronically and further suggested that requests be tracked to avoid future overlap among departments or ministries.
Yesterday (July 5) was the official date for all government departments and agencies to became compliant with the ATI Act and according to Aylair Livingstone of the ATI Unit, some 80 agencies and approximately 6,000 information officers have been sensitised to date.
Miss Livingstone pointed out that post offices and libraries would play a critical role in facilitating access to official documents and also informed that the Act would be reviewed to include a new section, which would deal with non-public organizations that provide public service to citizens.
During the first quarter of the year, 564 applications were received for access to official documents and Miss Livingstone informed that some 700 applications were expected at the end of the next quarter.
The ATI Act gives the public the legal right to see official documents held by government bodies and persons may also request personal information to be changed if it was incomplete, misleading, out of date, or incorrect.
Some documents are not disclosed in order to protect essential public interests or the private /business affairs of others.