The Joint Select Committee appointed to review the Access to Information Act has recommended that the Official Secrets Act be repealed and that the Access to Information (ATI) Unit become a statutory body. Information Minister, Daryl Vaz tabled the report of the Committee on April 14 in the House of Representatives.
He said the ATI Unit must be empowered to ensure that the various public bodies comply with the provisions of the Act and converting the Unit into a statutory body would address the current situation where many public authorities fail to comply with certain rules under the Act.
Mr. Vaz said the Committee recommended that the Official Secrets Act be repealed and replaced by an Act that would include penalties for the release of information that would put the State at risk. He noted that Prime Minister Bruce Golding has appointed a Committee to make recommendations with regard to the Secrets Act.
Other proposals contained in the Report are: "the wider application of a public interest test to exempt documents. It is recommended that there be an effective public interest override, which will help to ensure a balance between the application of exemptions and the release of information under the Act."
Minister Vaz said other proposals include the adoption of publication schemes that will strengthen the framework that exists for the proactive disclosure of certain types of information to the public and the review of Acts with non-disclosure provisions.
The additional recommendations are that the procedure for processing telephone requests be improved; fee payment systems and payment for delivery by registered mail be progressed; enforcement of statutory codes of practice on the discharge of functions under the ATI Act be developed; the creation of customer evaluation forms specifically related to the processing of access to information requests; and the appointment of a full-time person to the Appeals Tribunal to handle appeals.
The Minister encouraged the media and the public to utilize the new Access to Information legislation.