Parliament reopens Access to Information Talks

The Joint Select Committee for the review of the Access to Information Act 2002, reconvened this morning at Gordon House, to continue discussions which started in January 2006, on the operation and implementation of the Access to Information Regime in Jamaica.

Chairman of the meeting, Hon. Olivia Grange noted the Act is, now approaching the fourth year of full implementation across all public authorities. Despite challenges there have been significant strides made and the Act continues to enjoy strong public and bi-partisan political support.

Executive Director of the Access to Information Unit, Damian Cox highlighted the efforts of the now fully staffed Access to Information Unit since the last sitting of the Committee. These include:

  • The ads on cabs campaign
  • Public exhibitions and expos, namely the International Right to Know public display at the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre, Northern Caribbean University’s College Day and the University of the West Indies’ Research Day conference.
  • Media interviews in the electronic media
  • The face-to-face sensitization of various tertiary and civil groups, and Ministries and Public Authorities.

Addressing concerns raised pertaining to Access Officers and public Sector employees during the initial review, the Committee heard that the Access to Information Unit has since stepped up its training initiatives. Two training conferences were held in 2007 and 2008 which saw just over 230 public sector administrators in attendance, from the 280 contacted. This represents 82% attendance based on those contacted.

The Unit’s face-to-face sensitization training sessions has to date sensitized a total of two thousand, four hundred and seventy-six persons (2,476) from public authorities during the period April 1, 2006 to February 28, 2009 (including ‘train the trainers’ conferences).

In terms of the yearly break down, the following was presented:

  • For 2006, statistics received highlighted that 342 applications were made to 26 Public Authorities
  • For 2007, statistics received highlighted that 422 applications were made to 26 Public Authorities
  • For 2008, statistics received highlighted that 192 applications were made to 26 Public Authorities.

The latter was broken down as follows: 88 were granted access; 9 were partially granted, 1 denied, 20 deferred, 5 documents could not be found, 5 did not exist, 11 were previously destroyed, 20 treated informally, 10 requests were abandoned and 14 were carried forward.

In closing the Director pointed out that the Unit had recorded a four hundred and sixty-two percent (462%) increase from April 2006 to present – in terms of the total numbers sensitized. This was based on data retrieved from the Access to information Annual Reports 2004 and 2005 which revealed that five thousand, four-hundred and eight (5408) persons had been sensitized up to Aril 1, 2006. That number now stands at twenty-four thousand, nine hundred and eighty-two (24, 982) persons having been sensitized since the inception of the Unit.

The Minister commended the Director and the Unit on the tremendous work they had done since the last committee met, a sentiment supported by the committee members.
Moving forward, the committee members decided that the committee would convene on a quorum of five (5) members. The next meeting will be held on Thursday June 18, 2009. It was agreed that at this point verbal submissions would also be accepted. Written submission may be made by the public through to May 31, 2009. A Public Notice to this effect would be placed in the daily newspapers.

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