REMARKS BY SENATOR THE HONOURABLE SANDREA FALCONER MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (INFORMATION) AT THE LAUNCH OF THE ACCESS TO INFORMATION NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL ESSAY COMPETITION 2013/2014
Tuesday, September 24, 2013, 10.00 AM
OPM Press Room
- Dr. the Honourable Carolyn Gomes, Chairperson, Access to Information Advisory Stakeholders Committee
- Participants/ Past Winners in the Access to Information High School Essay Competition
Members of the media
- Ladies and Gentlemen
I am really pleased as Minister responsible for Information to participate in the launch of this national essay competition for high school students organized by the Access To Information Unit.
In extending a warm welcome to everyone, allow me to acknowledge in a special way, the top prize winners in last year’s competition
— Miss Yashae Mitchell (1st Place)
Mr. Kerron White (2nd Place) and
Mr. Andwayne Davis (3r Place)
The fact that our past winners continue to be associated with the competition is a powerful endorsement of its importance.
The launch of this competition during the ‘Right To Know Week’ and on the heels of the global observance of ‘World Right to Know Day’ is significant.
I must commend the partnership between the Access to Information Unit and the Access to Information Advisory Stakeholder’s Committee which has helped to make this initiative such a success.
The organizers of this national essay competition for our high school students, now in its fifth year, must be commended.
Each year the competition not only gets bigger, but better.
Ladies and gentlemen:
The passage of the Access to Information Act (2002) created a new and meaningful avenue by which the public can have access to government information. It forms part of the broader commitment to foster greater transparency and accountability in governance and the management of public affairs.
Over years, we have seen where ATI has given further effect to some of the fundamental principles underlying our democracy and the need for improved accountability, transparency and public participation in governance.
By granting to the public that right of access, official government documents and data can now be accessed by the public.
Individuals, media, civil society groups, researchers – all have been able to enhance their information goals and objectives, from challenging government policy and actions to making informed inputs in policy, legislation consultation and assessing the expenditure of public funds.
It has served as an effective tool for investigative journalism.
Important though legislation is as a critical first-step in a comprehensive plan to improve access to information, the fact is, if we are to truly benefit, then access to information cannot be confined to a static request from a concerned individual or citizens action group to a government agency for information.
Information or data accessibility must move further to embrace ‘open data’, thus placing more responsibility on government to provide the public with clear, objective and complete information about its policies and decisions on an on-going basis.
It must move beyond making a request of an individual agency to utilizing the best available tools, technology and formats in the useful application of government data which can be used to improve service delivery and benefit both government and the public.
Greater access to information will allow the public to better engage in national decision-making beyond the typical election cycles once every five years.
Democracy thrives when the people are informed and involved. Knowing, participating and contributing to the governance process; having an informed public that knows and understands what their government is doing, and transparency are fostered by the ability to access credible information.
It is for these reasons that I welcome this ATI essay competition for our high school students. As tomorrow’s citizens who will be charged with the responsibility of leadership, this is your opportunity to test our commitment to an open, accountable and responsive governance.
I urge our high school teachers, administrators and students to fully engage themselves in this competition which will not only serve to develop their analytical and critical thinking skills but the knowledge of areas of governance which I am sure will make them better future citizens.
“The Access to Information Act (2002) is critical for enabling citizens to exercise their voice, to effectively monitor and hold government accountable, and to enter into dialogue about decisions that affect their lives”.
In encouraging the full participation of our young people in this essay competition, I have every confidence it will help to strengthen our democratic values and adherence to those principles which have served us well in the past and must remain sacrosanct for the building of our future society.
Celebrate, be empowered and cherish the right to information that you possess.
This access to information empowers members of the public — from all walks of life — to seek, receive and impart information. It has in a fundamental way strengthened our participatory democracy.
I wish all the participants in the 2013/2014 Access to Information National High School Competition the best of luck and I look forward to reading the prize-winning entries from this year’s competition.
I thank you.