The October 1 commencement date for the Access to Information Act (ATI) has been pushed back to a later date in the month to allow for the ATI Regulations to be passed by both Houses of Parliament. Leader of Government Business, Senator Burchell Whiteman made the announcement at Friday’s (Sept. 26) sitting of the Senate at Gordon House.
Senator Burchell, Minister of Information & Leader of Government Business
Commenting on the delay, Senator Whiteman said, “we had expected to begin the phased implementation on October 1, 2003, and I am pleased to report that as far as I am able to assess the four ministries and their agencies designated to operate in the first phase, (they) are in a satisfactory state of readiness for that date of October 1. However, we have had some regrettable setbacks in meeting the legislative timetable”.
“There are still some refinements to be done to the Regulations in the creation of the appropriate forms as a result we are obliged to delay the implementation date for a few more days to ensure that all the legislative requirements are met,” he stated.
Senator Whiteman said that there were amendments to be made to the Regulations, which he said would be laid on the table of the Senate and debated next week. He said, “the general position of the stakeholder group is that we must implement as quickly as possible, but we must also use our best efforts to have regulations and systems in place, which will do honour to the intentions of the Act”.
While not committing himself to a new implementation date, the Government Senator said, “I would not wish this morning to give a specific date for implementation but on the advice from those best able to assess the process and subject to the decisions of this Honourable Senate I would expect that the Act should be brought into operation by the third week of October 2003”.
He said that the Government was committed to the implementation of the ATI Act, adding, “experience the world over has shown that the early period in the life of an access to information regime, sets the pattern for its effectiveness in later years. We are making every effort to begin on a good footing. I know that much is expected from the bringing into force of this Act, all of us has a stake in its success, as we seek to increase transparency in the operations of the government and to empower citizens through information to make a more meaningful contribution to governance in their community and country”.
The Leader of Government Business said that the ATI Act would not solve all the problems relating to information but would go a long way in building a culture of greater efficiency in the management, retrieval and use of information and a culture of openness, which if appropriately adopted would serve the nation well.
When the Act takes effect, seven Government agencies and Ministries will be mandated to give information to the public. The seven are the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), National Works Agency (NWA), Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Ministry of Finance and Planning, the Ministry of Local Government, Community Development and Sport, Office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office.
All other Government agencies and Ministries are projected to come on stream by October 2004.