JIS News

Minister of Information, Senator Burchell Whiteman has called on Government Legal Officers to, “empower citizens by providing them with information, so they can hold their government accountable, at both the national and local levels, and make more informed decisions on matters in which they have an interest or that directly affect their lives”.
“Accurate information is a vital element in the process of good governance and the building of public trust,” the Minister told the officers who attended a one-day seminar on Access to Information, held at JAMPRO’s offices in Kingston on Tuesday, July 5.
Senator Whiteman was speaking against the background of the expansion of the Access to Information Act, whereby “all public entities are, under law, open for business in respect of access to information”.
The Minister cautioned that while the majority of the 264 agencies and departments that were now under the new phase of the Access to Information regime were not technically equipped to respond optimally to applications for access, the decision was taken not to amend the law at this time, “but to use best efforts to serve the citizens of Jamaica” and to “facilitate all applications, as is humanly possible, in keeping with the Act.”
The Access to Information Act came into effect on January 5, 2004. At that time, several Ministries and agencies were declared ready, and it was determined that within 18 months, the Act would be applicable to all public entities – Ministries, Agencies, Departments and other bodies as defined under the Act.
Senator Whiteman said that contrary to the view that the Government had not met the deadline, “we are declaring that we might not be technically ready in every detail, but we are prepared to serve the public as is required by the Act”.
The Minister pointed out that the performance so far would be assessed. “It is our view at this time that we will use the skills of, and in some cases, the access routes created by parent Ministries to continue to build capacity in the other Departments and Agencies and thus seek to honour the obligations of the State under the Act,” Mr. Whiteman said.
“We clearly have no desire or intention to put the people against the Government or to position the Government in any adversarial position with the people. Indeed, now more than ever before – with the assistance of technologically advanced methods of information sharing and communication exchange – we must do our best to provide as much information and access to information as possible,” he added.
The Minister noted that access through websites was increasing, and pointed out that “while it may be true that only 4% or 5% of our households have access to the Internet, the active population – students, workers, adults, in general – will have 40% access at the workplace, in schools, libraries, Internet cafes and Post Offices”.
He reminded the Legal officers about the situation in the United Kingdom (UK), where the Access to Information Act was implemented five years after its passage. “Jamaica has dared to perform in a manner perhaps not expected of a country of our size and level of development,” he declared.
The Minister also reaffirmed government’s commitment to partnership, good customer service relations between government entities and the public, dialogue and consultation, and “to giving and receiving information from those whom we serve, so that they are empowered to manage their lives better, and that we are better informed as to how we can serve them”.
Senator Whiteman cited regional recognition of Jamaica’s progress in its access regime, and thanked the Carter Centre for its support in assisting to heighten public awareness of the steps that Government had taken.
He also thanked Officers of the Access to Information Unit in the Information Division of the Office of the Prime Minister, Responsible Officers in Ministries, Agencies and Departments, the Permanent Secretaries, his colleague Ministers, the members of the Stakeholder Advisory Group, including Senators from both sides of the Upper House, and all the people and organizations, locally and internationally, who have contributed to the success of the initiative to date.