Who benefits from delay?
Date: June 12th, 2019
The Rowley Administration has deferred (till Friday 14th June 2019) the proposed amendments to the Freedom of Information Act 1999, (FOIA) but continues to refuse and deny us our right to be consulted on matters affecting us most. Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) insists that the Rowley Administration not force any restrictive and prohibitive amendments down our throats. FFOS asserts that this Government must immediately host open, meaningful and nationwide public consultations on any proposed amendments before any changes whatsoever are attempted.
The FOIA establishes our rights and procedures to access public information and is a critical tool for protecting our democratic entitlement to information which mandates government accountability; promotes governance that is consistent with fairness and good administrative practice and ensures greater public input in policy creation within the public sector. Secrecy or delay does not protect the public interest. FFOS reminds the Rowley Regime that increasing the FOIA response time from 30 days to 75 days is a prohibition to public access, cripples all public interest judicial review challenges and is an unwarranted delay in the face of reasonable expectation. Or is that the intention? The Rowley approach to make it more difficult for citizens to access information is contradicting his government’s own commitment to transparency and accountability. Why this public betrayal and to whose benefit?
The AG’s rationale for the amendments is to minimize the alleged millions in legal costs which his Government incurs for failure to comply with the FOIA but this can easily be avoided if his Government simply act responsibly and promptly. If the Court rules against the State for denying information, then it’s no fault of the FOIA but is symptomatic of the disdain of our public officers! In the approximate 100 plus nations where FOIA exists globally, all governments comply with response timeframes from 20 to 35 days except in Guyana, which permits 60 days for their FOIA. The Guyanese FOIA 60 day “world record” time frame is an exception and a bad example of failed legislation because it severely restricts and negatively affects its citizens’ ability to judicial review within the stipulated 90 days from the date of the decision.
The AG is reminded that T&T should be following the best not worst examples of public access to information. Why are we as a nation seeking to hold the Guinness world record for the longest response time for an FOIA? FFOS warns that there is a wider trend of denial of the public right to information presently reflected in the Environmental Management Authorities (EMA’s) suddenly new approach to deny public access to full copies of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA’s).
It appears to us that the Rowley Regime is deliberately attempting to neuter and frustrate all public access to information and/or participation in the nations affairs. Civil society’s ability to meaningfully participate with technical and scientific guidance in public consultations during the Certificate of Environment Clearance (CEC) application process is crippled and undermined without this critical information of full copies of the EIA. Until the public has been fully consulted on any parliamentary amendments, the notorious corruption of our hooded public officers will continue to erode our children’s future by draining our Treasury, giving away our patrimony and neutering our public interest movements. We as patriots must stand firmly and united regardless of petty perceived differences to stop our rights from being weakened one brick at a time. Freedom to access information is now not a privilege but a right. FFOS calls on the Rowley regime to not have fear and to let the ‘Court of Public Opinion’ be the judge.