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Access to Information Act Review Continues

The Joint Select Committee to review the Access to Information Act 2002, held its second meeting for the year on June 30, 2009, at Gordon House. The Committee’s first meeting was held on March 26, 2009.

The meeting was Chaired for the first time, by the Hon. Daryl Vaz since his appointment as Minister Without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister. He has been assigned responsibility for the Information and Telecommunications portfolio.

Members present were Mr. Tarn Peralto MP, Ms. Lisa Hanna MP, Senators Warren Newby, Sandrea Falconer, Dr. Ronald Robinson and Basil Waite. In his opening remarks, Minister Vaz stated that Jamaica had performed well in the area of access to information and had been hailed as a leader in the Western Hemisphere.

In response to calls for submissions to the committee placed in the newspaper, three submissions were received from the:

  • Access to Information Advisory Stakeholders Committee;
  • The Media Association of Jamaica; and
  • Mrs. Carole Excell, Attorney-at-law and the Freedom of Information Coordinator in the Cayman Islands.

Minister Vaz invited the Access to Information Advisory Stakeholders Committee to make its scheduled presentation to the Committee. Dr. Carolyn Gomes introduced herself as Chairperson of the Committee and Ms. Nancy Anderson, legal officer of the Independent Jamaican Council for Human Rights as well as Ms. Daniel Andrade, legal director at Jamaica Environment Trust. Dr. Gomes spoke to the establishment of the ATI Advisory Stakeholders Committee as a non-governmental organization comprising members of civil society and non-governmental groups including the press and media associations.

Dr. Gomes commended Jamaica’s experience with Access to Information, specifically the period of two years between passage of the Act and implementation, compared to five in the Britain.

Dr Gomes also stated that the ATI Advisory Stakeholder’s Committee had concerns about the roles being performed by the ATI Unit and the resources provided to it. It was also her recommendation that the Committee consider amending the Act to incorporate as a statutory provision, the ATI Unit, which is involved in the implementation, monitoring and compliance.

Ms. Anderson made her contribution to the submission by speaking on the need to repeal the Official Secrets Act, issues of public interest tests, voluminous requests, telephone requests and payment mechanisms for the cost of reproduction of official documents. Ms. Andrade also addressed the Committee speaking to concerns she had relating to the Appeals Tribunal, the appeals process and publication schemes.

The oral submission was followed by discussion with the Committee members, the Stakeholder representatives, the Director of the Unit as well as the Director General and Principal Director for Information and Telecommunications Department. The Chairman insisted that time would have to be made for hearing of the other two submissions in September and expressed the desire to conclude the work of the committee as soon as possible.

The Joint Select Committee will have its next meeting on September 17, 2009 when the Committee will hear from the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ).

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