JIS News

Minister of Information, Senator Burchell Whiteman has lauded the Access to Information Students’ Challenge, noting that the competition was a good one, which would enable students to understand and appreciate the process.
His remarks came at the awards luncheon for the challenge, which was held at the Gleaner Company’s North Street offices yesterday (March 8). The competition began in October 2005 and was organized by the Access to Information Advisory Stakeholders’ Committee and the Gleaner Company.
Thanking the Committee for initiating the challenge, Senator Whiteman said that while those who were responsible for ensuring that the process worked, needed to continuously improve performance to ensure that it was as “painless and as efficient” as possible, for the most part, the responsible officers in the Ministries and agencies were committed.
Senator Whiteman pointed out that while the Act provided the right of access to official documents, “we (the government) have a bigger objective to provide more information that is useful to people, without their having to go to great lengths to get it”.
“You will find that the Ministries and agencies are putting out more and more information up front, on their websites, so that you can go onto a website and get information. That is and has to remain one of the principal aims of a government in an information society.the work is continuing to make sure that more information is made available,” he added.
Senator Whiteman also noted that government publications are produced to continuously inform the public, as well as the weekly government bulletin pages, which are published in the Gleaner and the Sunday Herald, highlighting policies and programmes. “We are on the same page and we need to work together to find the most effective way to create a more informed society,” he said.
The Minister congratulated the students and encouraged them to urge their peers to participate, in order to keep this useful competition going.Wolmer’s Boys’ School and Dunoon Technical were awarded for best overall project in the challenge.
Glenmuir High received the most practical request award, while Wolmer’s received the prize for best internet log and the request of the highest national importance. Dunoon also picked up the award for the best kept log and the request most relevant to the area/parish/school.
Dunoon requested documents under the Act on issues, including the clean-up of the Kingston Harbour and funding; road repairs; returns for CXC subjects; size and maintenance cost of official government properties, and toll road collections. Wolmer’s dealt with teacher qualification in their school zone; job descriptions for Mayors and Councillors; and theYallahs Fording. Meanwhile, Glenmuir High accessed documents on the Kennedy Grove housing development.
Feedback from the students and their group teachers was that while the experience had been positive and informative overall, a number of changes could be made to access information easier.
They suggested that one way in which this could be done was to continue the processing period when one ministry or agency had to forward certain requests to another ministry or agency. This would mean that instead of having to wait for a new processing period, the time should be calculated from when the original request was made to the first Ministry or agency of contact. This, they said, would shorten the waiting period and provide for a smoother flow of information.
Speaking with JIS News, Upper Sixth Form student of Glenmuir High, Stacy Ann Baker explained that getting information from the government had proven to be challenging to some degree. “However, it was quite interesting, we learnt a lot, and it was fun,” she said.
Meanwhile, Nico Tyndale of Dunoon Technical said he and his group had participated to educate themselves as to the proper channels to gather information and how to process such information. “This was the first time I had heard about the Access to Information Act and we thought it sounded interesting, so we started working with our teacher,” he explained.