Threatening our right to information
Date: June 12th, 2019
We fought for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 1999 and now we stand to lose it.
Instead of strengthening legislation which empowers our citizens, while promoting accountability and transparency, our leaders are now choosing to weaken, delay and/or prevent public access to information. Why would the Rowley administration do that? Freedom of information is a tool which helps to prevent possibly corrupt, underhand, improper or get rich schemes by ensuring public participation and oversight. Can Cabinet please make public what could be the possible national advantage of secrecy? Who could be the possible beneficiaries that Messrs Rowley and Al Rawi envisage? These amendments are wholly contrary to and inconsistent with the spirit and intention of the Environmental Management Act, a special majority act.
Why is our Government weakening this critical transparency legislation upon which all Judicial Review (JR) actions depend? JR is the only opportunity where a citizen can challenge any Government decision. Under the JR legislation the Applicant must take action before the expiration of 90 days from the date of the decision. Without the FOIA, the dates of the decisions may be unknown. If the FOIA time limit is increased from 30 to 90 days then ‘substantial prejudice’ would be created because the Applicant would not be able to access critical information in order to mount any JR challenge within the 90 day stipulated time limit.
Nebulous decisions or contracts which were only made public due to the intervention of the FOIA would now remain intentionally smothered forever. Is this in the public interest?
These untowardly legislative amendments were introduced by Cabinet on Friday 7th June 2019 and will be debated on Monday 10th June. Frightfully it requires a simple majority to be passed and we the public are left threatened, powerless and bullied without options in the face of this legislative dismantling.
The proposed FOIA amendments include changes such as
- Extending the response time of the Public Authority from 30 days to 90 days with an additional ninety days of the AG denies the FOIA.
This means that an Applicant may have to wait up to 6 months to discover a decision, which would undermine the success of a JR.
Civil Society is being threatened. It is time to stand up as one united body. Our elected leaders are leading our island down the slippery slope of dictatorship, which today our Venezuelan counterparts are fleeing.